Why cash-strapped aid agencies should hire rookies: A rant

One dreads a civilian surge of highly paid westerners, spending all their time behind barricades in meetings with other westerners, drawing up work plans and draping themselves in red tape while dirt-poor Afghans look on in dismay.

Sigh.

I hear this same story, over and over: Western aid workers go to Afghanistan, ostensibly to do good, but then expect to have en suite bathrooms, receive high per diems,  not have to travel outside Kabul, and to get plenty of time off to sun themselves on the beaches in Southeast Asia and go sightseeing in Europe.

Hey, aid agencies! Here’s an idea: start hiring more first-timers.

I’m totally serious. Let me explain.

Newbie aid workers right out of school or with limited field experience are willing to work longer and with far fewer perks than many of those who’ve been in the game for years and years. I know this because I am an aspiring aid worker, and I would gladly work in a conflict zone for the equivalent of an entry-level NGO salary here in the US, as would numerous others in my position. [Disclosure: yes, this rant post is partly self-serving. Surprise!]

Conventional wisdom holds that the more difficult the environment, the more important it is that aid workers be tough-as-nails lifers who preface their sentences with things like “When I was in Goma…,” but I seriously question that conventional wisdom. I don’t doubt that experience is important, but is it really as important as it’s made out to be?

I would argue that there is also something to be said for the clarity of fresh minds, unclouded by years of toil and painful ethical compromises. Ditto for how poorly-connected rookies are.  Most people view this as a deficiency, but I see a silver lining. Relatively ignorant of the petty rivalries, nepotism, grudges, and cliques within the aid world, we are less likely to base important decisions on these things. Moreover, younger aid workers –at least the ones I know– have been schooled in the latest theory from the get-go, are  aware of and extremely sensitive to the dominant aid/development critiques and controversies, and don’t look at these through scratched lenses of organizational loyalty.

Again, I’m not arguing that field experience isn’t important –that would be myopic, offensive, and unfair to the many, many awesome pros out there– but merely that aid agencies should rethink how they weight previous field experience relative to a job candidate’s other assets.

Conventional wisdom holds that all newbies with no conflict zone experience will disembark at the airport and promptly wet their pants at the sight of bombed out buildings or gun-toting teenagers or the absence of Dunkin Donuts –or whatever.

This is absurd.

I personally know someone who had her first field experience was Darfur in 2008 and adjusted quickly, and another person who freaked the hell out in Bosnia –in 2007! (Ok, our mine awareness and unexploded ordinances training was a bit over the top in terms of gory videos –I mean, really, who “takes mines lightly”?– but I digress.)

Some personality types are better suited to high stress environments than others, some even thrive on certain kinds of stress.* Is it really that difficult for recruitment officers to figure out what kind of person they are dealing with during the interview phase?

There is no way to be certain how someone will react when plopped down in a war zone or somewhere without any modern conveniences for the very first time, but couldn’t selection mistakes be reduced through more rigorous and blunt questioning?

Obvious? I thought so, until I began my job search.

When I was doing interviews this spring, never once was I asked, “How are you under stress?” or, even more to the point, “How do you think you would handle worms in your gut? How about armed men stopping your car? Crapping in coarse shrubbery by the side of a lonely road?  Do you get upset if you can’t shower for days on end and start to stink?”

It’s always fashionable to trash idealism, and to conflate it with naivete, but couldn’t the aid world use more idealism –so long as it is well-informed and cautious?

Some pro’s to hiring us tender young things:

– You can pay us a lot less (great for the recession!)

– We’re idealists, but also highly self-critical and willing to question aid orthodoxy.

– We’re generally single and without dependents, making hardship deployments less tricky.

– We’re accustomed to crappy living conditions and don’t expect to be pampered. For some people I know, a creaky guesthouse with a broken shower would be an upgrade from sharing a one-bedroom with two other people and sleeping a couch that smells of old beer.

– We seek out innovation and we’re tech savvy.

– We’ll work ourselves into the ground to prove our worth.

– We’re young and strong, and thus less likely to give out physically.

Maddeningly, the trend I have observed recently is cash-strapped aid agencies firing their entry-level employees and retaining those at the top with large salaries while critical programs go understaffed.

I sincerely hope this changes, but I won’t count on it.

*:::Waves hand in the air:::

Tough questions from Alanna Shaikh

Alanna recently wrote a disquieting post about the worst story someone ever trusted her with in the field until now, implying that she just encountered something worse in the course of her work. It’s a disturbing read. At the end, Alanna asked a few questions, including the following.

Alanna: I want to know whether it’s useful to have the EU pull its funding from the country whose name I won’t mention or if it’s more effective to keep pushing small changes and hope they add up.

It’s probably not useful, unless the regime in power relied very, very heavily on foreign aid. And even then, if the regime can support itself through some combination of oil and gas exports, drugs, private sector corruption and organized crime, then it’s still probably not helpful.

Of course, if we’re talking about sanctions, that’s a bit different. Some quick thoughts on sanctions.

When Serbia under Milosevic was placed under sanctions, its crime networks benefited mightily while ordinary people suffered. That legacy continues to hinder development and democratization today. Much of Serbian civil society, people who opposed Milosevic, were also against the sanctions, because international isolation made their work more difficult as well. Eventually, Milosevic was overthrown  and turned over to the ICTY to stand trial, but only after running Serbia into the ground economically, shredding its social fabric, bloodying much of the region and drawing the wrath of NATO in the form of seventy-eight days of airstrikes. And Serbia in the nineties and early 2000s was a vastly more developed country with a stronger civil society than any of the Central Asian states have now. Sanctions are like aggressive chemotherapy in the international body politic. Even if they work, the collateral damage is staggering. I’m not categorically opposed to sanctions, but I think that they are more often than not poorly designed and enforced unethically. Iraq after the First Gulf War is a horrible example of this.

Alanna: I want to know if supporting democratic institutions actually leads to democracy.

Working in a governance development organization, I should have a better answer to this than, sometimes, when conditions are right, and when we’re lucky. Some quick and hopefully not entirely incoherent thoughts on democracy assistance.

What we know is that the impetus for democratic reform has to come from within if it’s going to lead to anything approaching liberal democracy. Democracy support is most effective in regimes that have just undergone a paradigm, whether it’s a full-blown people power revolution, the end of an armed conflict, or just a slightly less un-free election. In these instances, the new government is often full of people who didn’t plan beyond getting into office. They can be swayed in one direction or another, but the window of opportunity is small. If they can’t meet rising expectations and the citizenry starts getting restless, the new boss will start looking and acting a lot like the old boss. Democracy assistance to institutions can, in this case, help a new and tentatively pro-democracy government meet the expectations of the people, or at least not fail utterly. Where there is no indigenous pro-democracy movement and the democratic impulse is weak, where the regime in power has no qualms about using violence to destroy its opponents, or where current regime leaders have made it clear they won’t leave until they die or someone kills them, external assistance to institutions alone will not start the engine of democratization. However, that doesn’t mean that external assistance for things that improve the everyday lives of people, like the reform of social welfare and education ministries (generally seen as more technocratic than political) isn’t worthwhile.

I might come back to this in a few days. Right now, I have to finish packing. Tomorrow, I move to a new apartment.

Buzzwords

Here’s something I’ve wondered about for a while: is it better to use buzzwords (“capacity-building,” “leadership development,” “procurement,” “partnership-strengthening,” “good governance,” “rights-based approach,” etc, etc) or to just come out and say exactly what you mean?

Your project trained MPs to give radio and TV interviews so they’d stop embarrassing themselves. You got your lawyer ex-boyfriend to threaten legal action to stop a landlord from illegally evicting asylees from his building. You bought something at a low price, had it shipped fast, and saved your organization a bunch of money. Your boss stood in front of a bulldozer and shouted down a municipal official and his developer buddy who wanted to raze the local shantytown.

I once joked with a colleague that I needed to figure out what buzzword to use to obfuscate unclogging the plumbing in the home of a Burmese refugee family.

In all seriousness, when are buzzwords appropriate?

When are they helpful?

Are they ever appropriate or helpful

Do they make you sound like  a professional, or a pompous loser with something to hide?

The post-conflict beauty schools

https://i0.wp.com/graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/04/29/fashion/29beauty600.1.jpg

via the New York Times

Recently, I have noticed a curious trend: the proliferation of post-conflict beauty schools.

I first heard about it from my boss, who described how the UNDP ran a program that trained hundreds and hundreds of Kosovar Albanian women –that is, way too many– to be hairdressers in the early and mid 2000’s.

And then I heard about the IRC  training beauticians in Chechnya.

And then the Kabul Beauty School (pictured above).

And just today, reading ‘Child Soldiers: Think Again,’ I stopped on this line and chuckled:

In Liberia, for example, too many ex-combatants were educated as carpenters and hairdressers.

How many post-conflict beauty schools are there? And why is hairdressing/cosmetology picked as a profession to train vulnerable populations in? I wonder how the decision-making works here, be it with the UN or NGOs, and how much local input there is.

No good options, lots of greys

A few days ago, Hamesha wrote about the ordinary people of Uruzgan:

[..] by looking at these ordinary people, i know deep down that they have reasons, and maybe good reasons, and that all that they think and do is not simply because of wanton rage and indiscriminate and blind passion –they are simple farmers and loving fathers and confused brothers and not always sociopaths and talibs and ideologically hardened insurgents. we have failed to reach out to them and to connect to them. we have foisted the most corrupt and dastardly upon them to represent us and somehow expect that they behave well while they do not even have a say in their own destiny. and we have come to see them as the enemy -and in doing so, have turned them into the enemy. and all along we have resorted to the power of violence and money to change their minds. we have commoditized development and fetishized security. we have come to perceive these people, otherwise ordinary humans, as either ‘elements’, or statistics, or swathes of public opinion, or insurgents, or supporters of insurgents, or a faceless mass of tools that know no reason and logic.

I thought of that passage when I read the following IWPR story today:

The Occasional Taleban

Dari Pashto

Impoverished young men struggling to find work hired by insurgents as part-time fighters.

By Fetrat Zerak in Farah (ARR No. 319, 23-Apr-09)

Abdullah Jan and Abdul Khaleq are both from the Pushtrod district of Farah province in western Afghanistan. Both are young, unemployed, and seek work as day laborers, for which they get about 200 afghani (4 US dollars) per job.

There is one big difference between them though: while Abdul Khaleq earns his money by digging ditches, painting houses, and other manual labour, Abdullah Jan, not his real name, does so by attacking police checkpoints. He is a Taleban part-timer.

“I am the only breadwinner in our family of eight,” said Abdullah Jan, a 22-year-old from a small village. “I went to Iran three times to try to find work, but I was expelled. I was in debt, and my father told me to go to the city. I looked for a job for three weeks, but then my brother got sick and needed medical treatment. He later died. Two of my friends then suggested that I go to the local Taleban.”

His mother was against it, said Abdullah Jan, and tried repeatedly to dissuade him. His father, however, kept silent.

“My first assignment was to attack the police checkpoint in Guakhan district,” recalled Abdullah Jan. “We killed four policemen, and we lost two of our own. Another one was injured. The fight lasted for two hours, with the real Taleban encouraging us from behind the lines, saying ‘go on, further, move, move, move.’

“When it ended, I was paid 400 afghani by the local commander. He said that if I performed better in the future, I would get more money. Since then, I have participated in five more attacks, and I make about 1,000 afghani per week.”

Under this ad hoc arrangement, Abdullah Jan is a Taleban for only a few hours per week. Other than that, he goes about his business like any other citizen. He has no gun or any other equipment that marks him as an insurgent, and he does not consider himself to be one.

“I am just fighting for the money,” he said. “If I find another job, I’ll leave this one as soon as possible.”

By some estimates, up to 70 per cent of the Taleban are unemployed young men just looking for a way to make a living. In Farah, Helmand, Uruzgan, Zabul, and other southern provinces, the majority of insurgents are fighting for money, not ideology.

But they are caught in a vicious circle: as long as their provinces are unstable, there is little investment that could generate employment opportunities. However, in the absence of jobs, they join the insurgents, prolonging the violence and guaranteeing that security and development, remain but a distant dream.

Too often, the Taliban are portrayed as a uniform group of ideologues who cannot be reasoned with and can only be stopped with bombs and bullets. There are, surely, some Taliban like that. Though, I am inclined to believe Fetrat Zerak and Hamesha, who tell a more complex story, one that speaks more to universal human desires and frailties than to unadulterated evil.

What would I do in the place of someone like Abdullah Jan? From my place of privilege, it is hard for me to put myself in his shoes.  I do not know his poverty or his obligations. What would I do if I alone was responsible for filling eight empty bellies? How heavy would that weigh on me, and madly gnaw at me? What might it drive me to do?

Then again, undoubtedly the civil servants Abdullah Jan and others like him kill are also ordinary people doing what they can to make it from one to the next and to provide for those in their care.

Perhaps that is the greatest tragedy and irony of all; those holding power  have pitted the poor and desperate against each other and by doing so have ensured that they remain poor and desperate and easy to manipulate to cynical ends.

Hope, development, injustice and inequality

Hamesha  just wrote about his recent trip to Bamyan.

to see that amid all that goes wrong -which the media never misses on- so much is going right, and that it is to the credit of the people, the ordinary folks, who in most cases barely have enough to get by but at the same time put up to 70% of the costs of development projects and invest in their and their children’s future. people who have a humble rural folk wisdom that can touch you unlike anything you have heard or read or discussed.

people who -in the case of bamyan- have no idea why a government that they accept and back and support ignores them while they inhabit a province so secure you could backpack through it and hitch rides from the locals and stay in their homes for the night, while they are so deeply mired in poverty that by barney rubin’s reasoning they should cultivate the highest harvest of afghanistan’s opium -but still don’t; these people have not the slightest idea why they are being neglected in development and are relegated to carving a living for themselves out of the forbidding cliffs and the rocky valleys to which geography and history have conspired together to imprison them in, and why after so many years and so many billions of development dollars, they have yet to experience a paved road, or a hospital birth.

A lovely, sad, apt choice of words.

still they persevere and salute the government cars and un vehicles driving through and covering them up all in dust, and they share the cream and quroot and sheep milk that they have. and on occasion, when it gets really frustrating, they take up not arms and ammunitions, but working tools and in what is an unprecedented example of civic action and silent protest in this country, mud-asphalt their roads to try to call attention to their miserable lot.

We really don’t hear enough about Bamyan and other areas  [like Ghor, as Marianne added in the comments] –precisely because they are not hotbeds of insurgency and political machinations. On the contrary, they are peaceful, pro-government, and comparatively progressive on gender. They are also edge-of-catastrophe poor. But without the threat of violence, reducing poverty lacks the kind of urgency that opens fat wallets and gets things done.

I am certain the irony of being neglected for doing all the right things has not escaped the people of Bamyan.

Ulterior motives are hard to hide: the militarisation of aid work in Afghanistan

There’s an article up at the Huffington Post on the dangers associated with blurring the line between traditionally neutral humanitarian work and counterinsurgency in places like Afghanistan. According to the article:

A meeting this month in Kabul turned acrimonious when USAID and Department of Defense (DoD) officials briefed international aid agencies on the new policy of the US government. The plan, titled Civilian-Military Cooperation Policy, outlines that USAID will “cooperate with DoD in joint planning, assessment and evaluation, training, implementation, and communication in all aspects of foreign assistance activities where both organizations are operating, and where civilian-military cooperation will advance USG foreign policy.”

I kind of wish I was back at the office now (the organization I work for is  USAID-funded and has a project in Afghanistan) so I could ask colleagues their thoughts on this in person.

One attendee of the Kabul meeting made made a point that deserves more attention:

A delegate from InterAction, the world’s largest NGO coalition, representing 172 organizations, accused USAID and the DoD of a classic “bait and switch.” InterAction had previously supported DoD allocating budgets for “reconstruction, security, or stabilization assistance to a foreign country,” but now they felt that the motivation was ” to fund development projects favored by the military”.

Michael Kleinman at Humanitarian Relief has another post up about the dangers attached to the militarisation of aid work. Kleinman argues that:

[…] closer ties between USAID and the DoD certainly don’t make the situation any safer for aid workers, but that the real problem lies even deeper.  The brutal truth is that insurgents in Afghanistan and elsewhere increasingly view US (and western) NGOs as anything but impartial, independent and neutral.

Hence, for instance, the comments made by the Taliban after killing three IRC staff and their driver in Afghanistan this past August, accusing the victims of being part of the “foreign invader forces“.

This isn’t simply a result of closer ties between the US military and USAID.  Many in the NGO community would also blame the military for engaging in reconstruction and development activities that “blur the lines” between soldiers and aid workers.  But again, I think this is far too simplistic.

Sure, and the “lines” are never going to be crystal clear, but there’s a distinct danger in arguing that too far. For example, you get crap like this from Ann Marlowe, who argues that not only should aid and development work be militarised, but the military is far better suited for aid and development work than NGOs are:

Greg Mortenson [of Three Cups of Tea] and his colleagues built 55 schools over a decade in some of the most remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beginning in 1994 in one Shia village at the base of K2 in Pakistan, he started the Central Asia Institute, which expanded its activities into one Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan and finally into a remote northern Afghan province on the Pakistani border.

Mortenson’s struggles and achievements are memorably described in his book, co-written with David Oliver Relin, and they are remarkable. But contrary to the impression he gives in his very anti-military book and contrary to what many Americans assume, his work, and probably that of all the school-building charities in Afghanistan combined, is dwarfed by the school-building achievements of the American Army in Afghanistan.

I’ve previously reported how in 15 months, from January 2007 to the end of March 2008, the U.S. Army built 53 schools just in one eastern Afghan province, Khost. (It has since broken ground on 25 more.) School attendance in the million-population province has risen from just 38,000 in 2002 with 3,000 girls attending, to 210,000 at the beginning of the 2008 school year in March, 21% of whom are girls. (Yes, in this deeply conservative, remote province, that percentage represents a step forward.)

[…] Hundreds of thousands of the children of the Pashtun belt here owe their education to the U.S. Army. Its efforts here need to be expanded and supported. And young Americans who want to help the children of Afghanistan probably can do so best by joining the group that’s doing the most for them–the U.S. Army.

Of course, many of the schools the US Army builds are not sustainable, and nearly all of those built by Mortenson’s organization are. Why? Because Pakistanis and Afghans in the regions Moretenson works in know that he and his employees aren’t part of a counterinsurgency campaign. Their goals aren’t political, and all they want is to provide education to children who would otherwise go without.  One can also assume the fact that Mortenson and CAI have never recklessly bombed the people of the region also helps.

Anyway, a recent report on civil-military relations and NGOs by the European Network of NGOs in Afghanistan (ENNA) offers some suggestions for how to proceed from here:

  • NGOs should unite around advocacy to donors to promote more effective and sustainable civilian modalities for aid funding. NGOs that currently accept funding from military operations should reflect in a serious fashion on the high risk of negative implications for the safety and security of their own staff, programmes and beneficiaries, as well as the wider NGO sector in Afghanistan. Particular attention should also be given to building the capacity of local NGO partners to engage in policy dialogue and effective programming on a sustainable basis.
  • Development and humanitarian funding should be channelled through civilian funding instruments and agencies, not military or integrated civil-military institutions. These funding modalities should be carefully managed in order to minimise the risk of implementing agencies becoming perceived as aligned with military forces involved in combat operations. Funding relations should also be reviewed to ensure that they do not undermine local governance institutions through creating parallel structures or additional layers of sub-national governance.
  • There is a crucial need for a neutral and impartial UN capacity to coordinate civil-military relations and humanitarian response. To this end the capacity of the relevant UN agencies responsible for these tasks should be further strengthened and clearly delineated from the political roles within those agencies. Additional support will also be required for NGOs, especially Afghan NGOs to engage actively with this coordination mechanism.
  • While capacity-building of local and national authorities to manage and implement programmes is an important and legitimate long-term objective, Afghanistan currently faces more immediate governance challenges in terms of resolving the political disputes and grievances driving conflict in the country. Greater focus and a more coherent strategy should be placed on tackling these political challenges.

Food for thought.

Dangerous poor people: Part II

Mischa has posted a very well-written and well-argued response to my post on Susan Rice. Mischa knows more about Rice’s background than I do, so it’s worth reading what he wrote about her.

The following is my response to Mischa:

Mischa:

Mainstreaming the human security doctrine is a massive pain in the ass, because we have an entire political discourse (and industrial base and contracting constituency) built around the traditional state-centric concept of security.  The article you linked reads like an attempt to convince advocates of traditional security models to treat human security seriously.  She has all these book blurbs and such with titles like “Poverty breeds insecurity,” and this really isn’t debatable, even if saying it out loud could have potential policy results.  Further, it’s crucial that it be said out loud.

Fair enough. I’ll admit I don’t know Susan Rice’s background that well, and your response has made me think again about her. However, I was responding to just that one piece she wrote for UN Dispatch, which I think you’ll agree was poorly worded, at the very least.

You say: “if development is approached as a way of reducing threats to U.S. national security, it’s going to involve military means.”  This would be news to the United Nations, the General Assembly of which has spent the last 8 years trying to reign in the cowboys even while publishing papers like this one.  Rice is trying to make American policymakers take human security seriously, in the way that Europeans and other non-U.S. governments do.

[…] Also, whether we like it or not, security forces and purely humanitarian NGOs exist on the same plane.  Whether in Afghanistan, Congo, or anywhere, you’ll find both Doctors Without Borders and Dudes with Machine Guns.  There’s an entire emerging literature on how to manage relations between NGOs and armed forces, coming as much out of good international institutions as out of the caverns of Foggy Bottom.

[…] Most human rights organizations are not now, and never have been, pacifist.  Not UNHCR, not ICRC, not MSF, certainly not the think-tanks like ICG.  The choice simply isn’t between militarized foreign policy and pure humanitarianism.  Wish is was, maybe, but there isn’t.

None of the above-mentioned are human rights organizations. One is the UN’s refugee agency, two are “first responder” type humanitarian aid organizations, and one is an advocacy think tank. Let’s keep human rights out of this for now, though, I should point out that Human Rights Watch, arguably the most influential human rights organization on the planet, makes its criteria for humanitarian intervention quite clear.

One doesn’t need to be a pacifist to believe that development and aid work should not be militarized. And while there may be a wealth of emerging literature about civil-military relations, there’s also a huge backlash going on within the aid and development communities, and plenty of literature reflecting that.

There has been a serious shift in the past decade or so from aid and development workers being seen as neutral humanitarians, to being seen as part of broader military projects — in some cases even some kind of unarmed cavalry whose presence signals “the troops will be here soon.”

This has resulted in decreased access in conflict and disaster zones, the loss of these professions’ historical neutrality, and substantially increased fatality rates among aid and development workers.

Afghanistan and Iraq have been epic failures in this sense, but so, too, have places like Sudan, Somalia, Burma, and Zimbabwe.

Brooks Keene at Humanitarian Relief eloquently makes this last point with a telling anecdote:

To illustrate how clashing objectives can lead to distrust on the ground that ultimately undermines even our security (much less good development), I’ll point to something an ethnically Somali aid worker living in eastern Kenya said that stopped me cold in my tracks.  Her own impressions of the US government  were decidedly mixed.  She pointed to the good work she sees the US government doing through USAID projects or in resettlement of Somali refugees into the United States.  On the other hand, the periodic bombings just over the Somali border and intelligence gathering in the area created a decidedly more negative impression.  She said that perhaps this is a case where “the hand that feeds you is the one that kills you.”  How much trust do you think she had in the U.S. troops digging wells nearby?

Mischa:

It’s a big reach to take Rice’s view of development and conclude that she finds poor people dangerous.  You’ve phrased it like it’s a personal attack on the poor.  All evidence on civil wars, contagion theory, and state failure suggests: Poverty is dangerous.  It’s dangerous to the people living it, and it’s dangerous to the people in the states next door and increasingly next-next door.  Characterizing this position as Susan Rice Hates the Poor isn’t fair.

Yes, poverty feeds a dangerous cycle, but that doesn’t mean people living in poverty should be viewed as threats. A threat calls for a very different response than an ethical or moral obligation, or a sense of solidarity.  And notice that Rice frames global poverty (and those who live in it) as a threat to the United States. Ideas tend to take on a life of their own, and Rice should be cautious in trying to win over the traditional “security” crowd.  Development is a long,  slow process, and our political system isn’t designed to take kindly to any policy that won’t show big results within a single presidential term.

On the ad hominem point, you’ve got me. It wasn’t fair.  However, I stand by my assertion that Rice’s piece was poorly-worded and implies some pretty scary things.

Think of it this way. Most of our foreign policy establishment sees international development as foolish, too costly, or too slow. So, if poverty feeds insecurity because poor people are inclined to start wars, launch revolutions or join terrorist groups, then the most expedient way to reduce the threat they pose to the United States is  not to help them out of poverty, it’s to support systems that contain them where they are. In other words, we give money, arms, and diplomatic support to the dictators that oppress their populations the most successfully. This has been our policy from Latin America to Central Asia, from Augusto Pinochet to Islam Karimov. And it’s been a humanitarian disaster. I don’t think Susan Rice is a terrible person, or that she’ll be a terrible ambassador, I just think she should be careful not to unintentionally provide support for more of the same, or worse.

Dangerous poor people

Susan Rice, Obama’s pick for ambassador to the United Nations (a cabinet-level post once more) recently wrote an appalling and, frankly, stupid as fuck poorly-worded (OK, I was in a really bad mood when I first wrote this -Ed) post about global poverty at UN Dispatch.

The following captures Rice’s point:

When Americans see televised images of bone-thin African or Asian kids with distended bellies, what do we think? We think of helping. For all the right reasons, our humanitarian instincts tend to take over. But when we look at UNICEF footage or a Save the Children solicitation, does it also occur to us that we are seeing a symptom of a threat that could destroy our way of life? Rarely. In fact, global poverty is far more than solely a humanitarian concern. In real ways, over the long term, it can threaten U.S. national security. Continue reading