The US MDG Strategy is More than a PR Ploy!

Over at Aid Watch Laura Freschi is none too impressed with the US MDG strategy, unveiled by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah on Friday. Freschi argues that the US MDG strategy document is basically a PR ploy “to create a positive image of benevolence towards the world’s poor, which is sadly unrelated to whether the goals are actually achieved.”

I’m not convinced.

Let’s take a trip back in time. Five years ago, to be exact.  It was the summer of 2005, I was a reporter with the American Prospect magazine, writing about a big set of UN reforms that were being negotiated for the UN summit.  Diplomats at the UN were deep into negotiations before their heads of states arrived. And then this happened:

A month earlier, the newly minted, recess-appointed U.S. ambassador had sent negotiations into a tailspin when he submitted some 750 alterations to a 39-page text known as the “summit outcomes” document. Bolton’s most eye-popping suggestion at this summit, billed as a renewal of the UN’s 5-year-old pledge to help poor countries, was that all 14 references in the document to the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) be deleted.


Bolton’s stance on the MDGs caused an uproar. In addition to the G-77 bloc of developing nations that had the most to lose from the elimination of MDGs, the British, who had recently played host to a G8 summit focusing on African poverty, were particularly livid. Even the United States itself seemed to back away. In a meeting with representatives of nongovernmental organizations shortly after Bolton’s edits were leaked to The Washington Post for an August 25 story, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns refused to confirm or deny that, per Bolton, the United States was dropping its support of the MDGs. To those in the room, wise to the oblique lingua franca of the diplomatic world, Burns’ pullback hinted that Bolton had forged his own policy on the MDGs — ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Prospect has learned that, in the end, it took Rice’s personal intervention to set things right. On September 5 she participated in a conference call with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw on the subject of UN reform. The next day, Bolton sent a letter to his UN counterparts relenting on the issue. Finally, to put all lingering questions about U.S. support of the MDGs to rest, President Bush himself stated America’s firm commitment to them in his September 14 speech to the UN General Assembly.

Got that?  It was only five years ago that we had a freelancing UN ambassador who thought he could get away with erasing the mere mention of the MDGs from a UN Summit.  (And he might have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that pesky Annan!)  

Fast forward to 2010 and not only is the United States embracing the MDGs, but the administration has made it an organizing principal of US foreign policy. Just take a look at the National Security Strategy released this past May. That document is full of references to economic development and carves out a role development policy in US national security. Part of that includes embracing the MDGs as an expression of core American values, which in turn helps the United States win friends and influence people abroad.

The National Security Strategy enshrined development as a key foreign policy priority, and this MDG strategy sets out the discreet ways in which part of that strategy will be implemented.  Will this strategy alone ensure that the MDGs will be fuflilled across the board? Of course not–the MDGs, after all, are a global effort.  But at least we now know what the United States is bringing to the table.