Read A Good Book (and my quick follow up to Nick’s post on Paul Farmer)

I just read Nick’s post on Paul Farmer at USAID and had to add my quick input (which knowing me turned into something a bit longer.)

As an incoming college freshman, I read MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS, an excellent work of nonfiction on Paul Farmer’s unprecedented HIV/AIDS work in Haiti.  Along with Jeffrey Sach’s END OF POVERTY, this page turner sparked my interest in studying development.

So my first point is that if you haven’t read it yet, check out this book.  It’s inspiring, though admittedly less so with the knowledge that such a noble and experienced individual cannot receive a stamp of approval to run a major government office.

I didn’t know Farmer was on the top of the list for USAID director, but I’ll be honest: if someone asked me to name my top pick for the post, his name would have come first. 

So, despite my general support for President Obama, I have to be frank.

Some foreign policy hands have noted that for Farmer’s visionary and inspiring career, the MacArthur genius, medical doctor and anthropologist wasn’t necessarily an easy fit for running a large government bureaucracy.

Hmm, a policy wonk without experience to command executive authority? That sounds a lot like the McCain/Palin attack on the president.

Remember: during the campaign, Obama promised to doublethe U.S. provision of foreign aid.  With the recession, such lofty plans rapidly flew out the window.   But now, not to even name a USAID director and to the extent that it causes a public rift with the Secretary of State, is simply absurd.

Last February, I sat in a Cape Town classroom and listened as several African students criticized the U.S. in response to a question about how U.S. foreign-aid policy would respond to the financial crisis.  Several railed against U.S. shortsightedness and suggested that China would take advantage of the opening left by an impotent and increasingly isolationist U.S.   And I, being an American on the post-Obama election high, said, “Not so fast.”  Just because the U.S. stalls a doubling of aid does not imply abandonment of the impoverished world.

And it doesn’t.  But Obama’s giving in to Chuck Grassley on tariffs on Brazilian ethanol and the complete failure to appoint a USAID director does indicate that the developing world isn’t a high priority. 

So to President Obama: just because you went through the ridiculous two-year marathon of an American presidential election does not mean that you should subject unprecedentedly worthy appointees to the same bizarre dance.

Photo from Amazon.

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