As is, the current foreign assistance paradigm is characterized by indirect channels of aid distribution and a heavy footprint. This implies a resulting lack of local ownership, high cost, and perceptions of imposition and occupation among targeted populations - particularly in what are considered to be “fragile states.”
The trickle-down of official US foreign aid dollars is longwinded and more often than not, experiences multiple transaction costs as it moves from taxpayer to government coffers to aid agencies or private organizations in the field. It has been estimated that before public monies reach project implementation and the beneficiaries overseas, 60% has already been spent, meaning that beneficiaries are only likely to see $0.40 or less of every dollar. In Iraq, where the US has directed over $100 billion in development funds since 2003, the Center of Strategic and International Studies determined that only $0.27 from every dollar reached the Iraqis, finding this inefficiency to be detrimental to sustainable social, political, and economic development.
Furthermore, the security bubble that accommodates official Americans abroad working in fragile states is costly, reaching $500,000 per person annually. As federal employees, they must be protected by federal assets, whether contracted or uniformed. In insecure environments, this results in limited movements outside of secure compounds, with few opportunities to engage in dialogue with local communities or to see in person how appropriated funds are being spent on the ground. When outside visits are possible, they frequently involve the accompaniment of a large-scale security detail, presenting themselves to communities with weapons in full view, conveying an image of “occupier” rather than partner in development. The impact of “fortress diplomacy” is perhaps most significant within the Middle East, a region where the projection of US interests and values plays a vital strategic role, and yet where it has seen limited progress. In Iraq, the large-scale application of foreign assistance that followed the initial military operations has been mired in controversy over corruption allegations, and its failure to attract local ownership for development interventions.
In contrast, non-federal workers operating outside of armed perimeters in fragile states such as Iraq and Afghanistan work at their own risk, relying on community acceptance strategies for protection, as opposed to deterrence strategies - at a fraction of the cost.
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