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July 13, 2005
US Aid Brings Democracy ... Now

The head of the agency responsible for distributing American development funds to international groups says that the money now goes to building democracy, even in Arab nations that previously vetoed such use of the funds. Andrew Natsios told reporters that previous to this year, the State Department prohibited USAID from supporting groups that established governments vetoed, especially nascent democracy activists:

America's top aid official said on Wednesday Washington's new support for pro-democracy groups in the Arab world was bearing fruit, even in Egypt, once given a free hand to vet such funding by its U.S. ally.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told Reuters during a visit to Amman that USAID had previously granted the Egyptian government the right to block money for any civil society group it disliked.

"They didn't like democracy funding and they didn't approve it. They believed in tight control over civil society," he said, adding that such funding was no longer subject to Cairo's nod.

Natsios acknowledged that U.S. policy had in the past soft-pedaled concern for democracy in some Arab countries.

"We did not have a robust democracy program until recently in Egypt because from the foreign policy point of view we were told by the State Department that's not what our focus should be. It is now and so there is a shift going on."

All that began to change a couple of years ago, Natsios said, but the real change came this year. Natsios attributes that change to the surprising success of the Iraqi elections, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and similar democracy movements in Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon, and even the first steps towards liberalization shown by the Egyptian government of late. Instead of sending aid to only government-approved groups, which tended to make the governments happy as we funded their efforts to secure power, now the State Department tells Natsios that the kleptocracies have no veto power over American aid and to put it where it will have the best effect.

Can anyone else think why this change may have occurred? Perhaps a change of personnel at State from a practitioner of realpolitik to a staunch proponent of democratization? It appears to me that we are seeing Condoleezza Rice's fingerprints here.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 13, 2005 6:46 AM

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