There is growing criticism that President Barack Obama has yet to articulate a broad foreign aid strategy since entering office earlier this year. So far, most of this criticism has come from lesser voices in the development community, not U.S. foreign policy titans.

But this week, three of these giants voiced public disapproval of Obama's failure to craft a new development policy. In a March 5 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, former secretaries of State Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright said Obama must not sacrifice a renewed foreign assistance effort even with the economy in poor shape.

"Our country's economic health and security are inextricably linked to the prosperity and security of the rest of the world. The current economic crisis brings with it a strong temptation to turn inward and focus on the pain we are experiencing here at home," The pair, who co-chair the Initiative for Global Development, wrote.

"But pulling back from global engagement is not an option," they added. "Stability and prosperity go hand in hand, and neither is possible in the presence of widespread and extreme poverty."

Albright and Powell also urged Obama to include the private sector in his new development strategy.

"Only a strategy that combines smart government policies with the engine of business and entrepreneurship will be powerful enough to overcome the enormous challenges we face," they said.

The two former secretaries of state are not the only foreign policy leaders with advice for Obama. In an article for Slate, Francis Fukuyama, a noted author and professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Johns Hopkins University, raised questions about whether Africa's problems are better fixed with increases in foreign assistance or increased private sector investment.

Fukuyama said neither aid nor private sector investment is enough.

The "real core of the problem … is the region's level of political development. In this realm, solutions are going to have to come from within the region itself," he wrote.

"It is a positive first step for the discussion to shift away from what the outside world owes Africa and toward what Africans owe themselves."

Still, while the experts debate, Obama remains silent. Perhaps some prodding from foreign policy bigwigs will compel his administration to get moving on foreign assistance reform.

Meanwhile, here's a small tidbit from a recent Washington Post article on the Washington visit of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week also ordered her department to review all U.S. Agency for International Development contracts in Afghanistan before they can be signed. Last week, the department opened an investigation of its largest Afghanistan contractor, Falls Church-based DynCorp International, following allegations of drug abuse among its employees," the latter part of the article read.

Neither USAID nor DynCorp returned requests for comment on this matter.

About the author

  • David Francis

    David is a Washington-based journalist and former Devex staffer who spearheaded Devex's "Obama's Foreign Aid Reform" blog. He has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Pittsburgh Post Gazette,, San Francisco Chronicle, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Washington Monthly. David holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a graduate degree from Georgetown University.