At USAID, Craig Mullaney bridges defense and development in AfPak strategy

    Craig Mullaney, senior policy adviser for USAID’s AfPak Task Force. Photo by: personal collection

    As a Rhodes scholar, Army Ranger, best-selling author and head of president-elect Barack Obama’s Defense Department transition team in 2008, Craig Mullaney has worn many hats. His current – as senior policy adviser for USAID’s AfPak Task Force – affords him the unique opportunity to apply his military expertise to the field of development.

    “The longer I studied the field,” said Mullaney, “the more I became convinced of development’s critical role in mitigating conflict.”

    He sees his new position as an opportunity to build bridges between the defense and development communities by designing and implementing complementary strategies. As he put it, “part of my role is helping the defense community understand better where USAID has comparative advantages and how cooperation can enable effects greater than the sum of parts.”

    While Mullaney is new to the development field, his 2009 book, “The Unforgiving Minute,” chronicling his service in Afghanistan, gives hints of his broad worldview. Throughout the book, he emphasizes the need to connect on a human level with the local civilian population and to address insurgents operating outside of the Iraqi borders. And while some view the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a setback for development, Mullaney believes the conflicts have fostered a generation of young leaders with experience under pressure and an expectation of accountability.

    Despite his impressive array of accomplishments, Mullaney maintains a clear perspective on his work.

    “During the first major firefight, I was as a young platoon leader in Afghanistan. A sniper killed one of my soldiers,” he said. “In the process, I learned that in battle or any complex enterprise, it is impossible to control every variable.”

    The experience proved to be a lesson in professional humility, Mullaney added.

    With one bestseller already under his belt, there is every reason to believe that Mullaney will be a leading author of development’s next chapter.

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