To date, official foreign assistance – including military operations, humanitarian assistance, and long-term development funds – has played the predominant role in representing America’s values and interests within the Middle East. Since the establishment of the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the underlying structure of overseas development assistance has remained largely unchanged. Today, current policy debates surrounding foreign aid spending emphasize the financial and security implications of the appropriation requests put forth by the US State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with significantly less discussion given to the overall design of aid interventions, or the reformation of the system itself.
In recent years, government agencies have however begun to emphasize projects that provide an alternative to traditional top-down funding to a single in-country intermediary. With renewed recognition that transformative development assistance is required to effect long-term fundamental, positive change between the US and citizens across the Middle East, there has been a move to increase value-based forms of assistance. Senator John Kerry has pressed for a shift in viewing the Middle East solely through the security-oriented lens of 9/11, lauding the promotion of programs that will strengthen US engagement with the people of the region. This echoes calls by President Obama and the US State Department for increased citizen to citizen engagement with the Middle East, voiced in key speeches in Cairo and Doha since 2009. Advocating on behalf of “smart power” – as referenced in the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlights the need to tap into the expertise, experience, and energy of civil society to capitalize on the historic popular movements and uprisings across the region.
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