In nation-to-nation public relations there is public diplomacy, within it “soft power” – then there is also “really soft power“, humanitarian aid to vulnerable countries and their people.
It is too often disparaged with sarcasm (“boiling the ocean”, etc.) but over decades it has been the salvation for many millions of vulnerable people around the world.
Samantha Power, newly appointed Administrator of the U.S . Agency for International Development (USAID) https://www.usaid.gov/ has “faith in the humanitarian possibilities of an assertive American foreign policy” . “Samantha Power Still Believes America Can Help Save the World”. https://nyti.ms/3ztYxrL
Skeptics, hold your fire. Ms. Power is not, by any means, a starry-eyed dilettante.
Often characterized as a “pragmatic idealist”, she has had decades of firsthand experience in regions desolated by war and natural disasters in a career stretching from war correspondent to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Her point of departure in grappling with all such tragedies: “What, if anything, can we, America, do about it?”
Ms. Power has formidable resources at USAID. The agency currently has missions in 80 countries. Its 10,000 staff around the world delivering humanitarian services in about 100 countries. Those services include supporting girls’ education, vaccinating young people, and helping to prevent outbreaks of disease. During the recent G7 conference USAID announced its three new multinational partnerships in which it is “helping countries prepare for and mitigate climate-related disasters.”
The agency website presents an introduction that may well surprise: “…we provide development assistance to help partner countries on their own development journey to self-reliance – looking for ways to help lift lives, build communities, and establish self-sufficiency….”
And this touch of pragmatism:
“Our efforts are both from and for the American people. USAID demonstrates America’s good will around the world; increases global stability by addressing root causes of violence; opens new markets and generates opportunity for trade; creates innovating solutions for once unsolvable development challenges; save lives; and advances democracy, governance and peace.”
Ms. Power and USAID have clout in the Biden Administration. From the Times report: “When he chose Power to helm U.S.I.A.D. – a job that has not, in the past, been particularly high profile he [President Biden] sent a message to the world that humanitarian aid would be central to his foreign policy … because Biden has elevated her position to the National Security Council, she’ll likely be the most powerful.”
The administration has already begun to deliver on its humanitarian pledge by committing to provide many hundreds of millions of vaccine dosages for less developed countries and in a bold, risky initiative – addressing the grievous, long-standing immigration challenge at the U.S. southwestern border by allocating several billion dollars to Central American countries for improvement of their economies and public safety.
Still, even with the plethora of USAID projects around the world, the agency’s fundamental humanitarian mission is in duress. One international relations expert cautions: “There is a very clear sense that we lost four years of progress. Now the question is, [ital. added] can you revive this under American leadership and cooperation, given the growing challenges of conflict and climate change and Covid?”
Although at her confirmation hearing she identified “four gargantuan challenges confronting the world at this time” – Covid, climate change, conflict/state collapse and democratic backsliding …
Samantha Power still believes that we can revive American humanitarian leadership.