Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Let the Backtracking Begin

Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton is appearing at her confirmation hearing today. As is typical for these sessions, she's saying very little of substance while reassuring the senators about how seriously she takes the issues. Her testimony comes in three parts: an opening statement at the start of the hearing, her oral response to questions from the senators at the hearing (a transcript of which is not yet available), and a written response to questions previously submitted to her by the Senate Foreign Relations chair, John Kerry.

It is discouraging to note two things: first, she spends a mere 97 words on Africa out of nearly 6,000 in her opening statement, and those 97 words appear about three quarters of the way down, long after discussions about Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Russia, China, and the polar ice caps. Second, she makes almost no commitments regarding foreign aid--how it should be reformed, what areas need more support, whether the foreign assistance act of 1961 needs to be rewritten, etcetera. But she does say that while President elect Obama promised to double foreign assistance to $50 billion by the end of his first term, the onset of the economic crisis means that it could take "slightly longer" to phase in this increase. Of course, it could be argued that the economic crisis, which is hitting poor countries hardest, is a reason to ramp up foreign assistance, not slow it down.

All of this is, I fear, Washington-ese for the following: despite the rhetoric we might have used during the campaign, Africa isn't really that important, and despite the promises we might have made about helping the world's poor, current conditions render them no longer operational. Also, we'll tell you what we plan to do with USAID after we're safely ensconced in power, but don't expect anything too earth-shaking.

Here is Senator Clinton's entire statement about Africa:
In Africa, the foreign policy objectives of the Obama administration are rooted in security, political, economic, and humanitarian interests, including: combating al Qaeda's efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa; helping African nations to conserve their natural resources and reap fair benefits from them; stopping war in Congo; ending autocracy in Zimbabwe and human devastation in Darfur; supporting African democracies like South Africa and Ghana--which just had its second change of power in democratic elections; and working aggressively to reach the Millennium Development Goals in health, education, and economic opportunity.
Um, how do I say this in a way that doesn't sound overly cynical? It's good to see that in this overview of US relations in the world, the Congo merits a few words--well, four to be exact. I was worried that the deadliest war since World War II wasn't going to be a priority for the new administration.

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