Hillary Clinton, in a strangely two-sided move, has bypassed the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and imbued the State Department with the power to oversee development efforts directly where it sees fit – thus the recent money-laden visit to Pakistan. In some ways, this is good news. USAID has a long history of aid-with-strings projects, which has strangely enough not been to the taste of aid recipient populations, undoing any diplomatic yields we could expect. So to de-fang this old institution has been a long time coming.

But the State Department doesn’t seem capable of doing a better job. To look at The Cable,

Clinton showed her Pakistani hosts a series of maps that detail where key investments will be made in Pakistan’s ailing energy, water, and health sectors. By giving a larger portion of the money directly to the Pakistanis and focusing on big-ticket, high-profile projects that ordinary people can see, Clinton is hoping to prove to Pakistanis that their initial negative reaction to the aid legislation was misplaced.

Does that sound like top-down development advice with strings to anyone else? Maybe her ideas sound great on the table, but is that money really getting to Pakistanis? Likely not. In fact, most big-ticket development projects don’t benefit everyday dudes at all. Rather, they serve as a nagging reminder of a useless foreign presence in their government offices. A whole lot of money spent on nothing.

If the State Department really wanted to foster development (and economic prosperity, because that’s all we care about), they would do best to actually give directly to the citizens (not corrupt officials) through microfinance NGOs already on the ground, the school systems, and yes, in getting some sustained electricity flowing through their wires. All these big-ticket visible projects are nothing new. It’s more of the same failed ideas from an unimaginative politician. You want change in diplomatic and military relations? Fine. First, change your policy.

The full Cable post is available here.

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