I know more than a few justice-minded individuals who have pinned high hopes on an Obama presidency. Many of these friends and acquaintances are mightily concerned about oppression in the developing world, and see Obama as offering more favorable terms to the global citizenry, a kinder stance if you will (though not a “kindler, gentler stance” which is a euphemism for bleeding them dry). But what will Obama do for the developing world?

Answer #1:

A lot.

Obama has placed Alonzo Fulgham as the Acting Director of USAID. Mr. Fulgham (who grew up about 5 miles from where I’m writing in Boston and lived through the city’s school desegregation as a teenager), has a powerful concern for the poorest countries, having worked in Haiti, Afghanistan and other tough spots. More importantly, he is known for his compassion and collaborative style. Contrast this to a few Bush picks for the job. Andrew Natsios, former Massachusetts Republican Party boss and head of the “Big Dig” was a roads and bridges guy. He didn’t care much for the subtleties of human dynamics or conflict. Hearing him speak was a low point in my faith in the ability of top officials to grasp the complexities of the developing world.

The Obama administration has been throwing around Joseph Nye’s term, “soft power.” Nye, a former top State Department official and Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School uses the term to refer to the many diplomatic and relational ways to build agreement and support for our positions. Embracing soft power as a style can accomplish much, with real consequences for those on the ground. Bombing Bedouins back into the Stone Age is not the only way to get what we want.

Hillary Clinton, of course, has not fully embraced soft power. She favors “smart power” which seems to be something of a hybrid between smart bombs and the power of persuasion. She essentially says that Obama’s stance to the world will be much more diplomatic, except when we decide that it won’t be. Which brings us to …

Answer #2:

Not that much.

Some have called the Obama state department “dovish.” Why? I think it’s because they aren’t foaming at the mouth about who to invade next. This doesn’t exactly qualify Obama’s people as doves. Mrs. Clinton is a wonderful example. She essentially said that we reserve the right to do whatever we see fit to get what we want from other nations. Wait a minute! That sounds like the Bush mantra. The goal hasn’t changed so much; the Obama and Bush camps simply disagree on tactics. (Don’t get me wrong, I think that bull-headed militarism is both an ineffective tactic and an inhumane philosophy.)

Economic policy plays a tremendously important role. And who are Obama’s top economic advisors? Exhibit A: Larry Summers. Remember him? Larry Summers was forced to step down as Harvard’s President after making some remarks about women being less capable in the sciences. As Chief Economist of the World Bank, Mr. Summers wrote the infamous “pollution memo” wondering why we didn’t trade “bads” such as pollution in the same way that we trade goods. This market-solution would allocate “bads” where they had the least deleterious effect on income and wealth, for example in countries where people aren’t worth very much. The memo pointed out that “areas of sub-Saharan Africa are vastly underpolluted.” Mr. Summers doesn’t speak in the language of “rights” (such as the “right” to clean drinking water and adequate food). He speaks in terms of optimal efficiency.

Obama’s pick for U.S. Trade Representative (who negotiates bilateral trade agreements and sets bigger policies like NAFTA in motion) is Ron Kirk. Mr. Kirk is former Dallas Mayor and a lawyer in a very pro-GOP, pro-Bush firm. In 2007, he earned three-quarters of a million dollars lobbying for Energy Future Holdings, Inc. for pushing the leveraged buy-out of that company (the largest LBO in history) through the Texas legislature. The trade representative position is important, if you care about how the developing world fares. This guy doesn’t have the type of resume that would indicate that he’s going to tell poor countries, “yeah, I think it’s time we gave you a square deal.”

So, the answer to what the Obama administration will do for the developing world depends on whether you’re with Ralph Nader (who will campaign against “Republicrats” into the next millennium) or singing in the Obama choir. Like most sticky questions, I frankly think that the devil will be in the details and we’ll see empirically what Obama’s two terms (let’s hope) bring for those who are most vulnerable and who don’t get quoted in the New Yorker.

40 Responses to “Ask not what Obama can do for the US of A…”

  1. dechlera mol says:

    MatthewNordin: Reuters: Peace Prize selection “will be seen as a strong signal in favor of the empowerment of women, especially in the developing world.” –

  2. dubras isier says:

    Mobile phones are widely used throughout the developing world – 4 out of every 5 connections are made there – yet the technology has failed to reach women. Estimates place the gender gap at 300 million, making this a $13 billion dollar underserved market for mobile phone companies.

  3. shaylanca eng says:

    When I heard Don’t ask Don’t tell repealed i was so happy that people opened there eyes and realized that there was nothing wrong ps Tea can suck my d***

  4. What a bummer to be told you will be fighting for your freedom and then come home to find none of it is reserved for you

  5. murak pants says:

    people are dying because of AIDS and it right to see this reality in Africa .
    thank you Madonna to be their voice.

  6. got a point there mate. I also hope Ron Paul sell out. He seems like a good man. If i was American get my vote

  7. lissel platzko says:

    My english is pretty bad but the small sentence is more enough to describe you. Do you really believe this is about gods?

  8. youre the true example of a sheep/everything you just said cant be proven..wheres proof of gaddafi being one of the worst dictators?you honor a man who sat ate and shook the hands of a so called tyrant?tell me again why did he deserve the nobel peace prize?your on that anti republican crap when both are destroying this country.your whole comment shows how clueless and dumbed down americans are.im glad im not one of them.

  9. Even President Obama himself cldnt get me to go to one of our basketball games. That saids a lot bout me smh

  10. Commit to Fighting Disease in the Developing World: An age of austerity need not be an era in which we abandon t…

  11. brouves de wieling says:

    Look at Haiti.. a tropical paradise. It can grow coffee, bananas, sugar cane, corn,
    rice…with a little ingenuity it could have fish farms, shrimp farms, chicken farms.
    But no..after 200 years of Black Rule..the niggers have destroyed the island ..and now the actually try to live off of mud pies..mud mixed with sugar and Crisco baked in the sun.

  12. den tiliccoll says:

    AFP: Uzbek man in US pleads guilty in Obama murder plot: An Uzbek man living in the United States pleaded guilty…

  13. Money can’t buy you love but it can go a long way to helping fair trade communities in the developing world.

  14. saldyen mon says:

    Where are the jobs that the top 1% . . .ate supposed to be creating ???” The 1%ers are at Obama’s $38k fundraisers.

  15. Michael Jackson was the most talented man ever,ill say one thing about him,he never polluted the United States like all those Red-necks,in order for the United states to produce children,they would need to sterilise all red-necks,it would be the only way to speed up the human race.i dont really mean that,but i do feel it at times,George Carlin,and Bill hicks knew.

  16. valen laupt says:

    Evidence/impacts of climate change series…(read it before the denier censors it)..
    Weather changes can affect maple sap production
    A 2010 from the U.S. Forest Service and Cornell University showed climate changes already have affected sugar maple trees in the U.S.
    Kenosha News, Wisconsin
    31 Dec 2011

  17. You know, there was a recent case in Brazil where a 9-year old became pregnant with twins. Her stepfather had raped her.
    Man, if only 9-year old girls would stop being whores, right? The gave her the easy way out by ordering an but she should have been forced to live with the consequences of her stupidity. Even if she died because she was a child giving to children. Right? People these days!

  18. brus sche says:

    Coo, I never heard of a Wonderbag slow cooker (used in the developing world to save fuel) until today. But I want one

  19. vest lulennah says:

    WM 1, 10,20 were in the garden. They announced about 1 1/2 years ago that wrestlemania 30 will be in madison square garden again.

  20. CHINA: Construction plans for proposed 300,000 metric ton per year (mt/y) painted steel sheet factory and 900,000 mt/y hot-dip galvanizing plant, YIEH … & Plant Operations in the Developing World (Jul 30, 2005) book downloads –

  21. rufeng coplins says:

    Trayvon was just another face in the crowd until a month ago. But now the teen’s name is a household one. Fueled by a racially charged s…

  22. The head of an American group says they’re happy with Canada’s “pro-life stance” on a proposed G8 initiative to improve maternal health in the developing world.

  23. Using remote sensing to assess aid projects in developing world: Q&A w/ Evan Thomas Is this guy single!? What a catch!

  24. maynelzlen says:

    If Obama declared a ban on the phrases “douche bag,””I just threw up in my mouth a little” and “I just peed a little,” he’d have my vote

  25. pap berdi says:

    I hear the next TOMS deal is for every person who hits Inbox Zero in America, they’ll delete an e-mail in the developing world.

  26. lamakowski backeyoh says:

    This tiny village in India is why we are determined to serve mothers and babies in the developing world: –

  27. eamaluza says:

    Cost of Bush Policies: 5.8 Trillion. The cost of Obama’s policies, with 4 years added: 983 Billion. Slowest pace since Eisenhower.

  28. My iPhone has broken. I am now using a mobile that people in the developing world would probably laugh at.

  29. muman hasinnorla says:

    As developing world income rises, spending on mobiles grows faster than spending on energy, water or indeed anything else.

  30. odeh gana says:

    The 2013 guidelines for the United States’ premiere program for addressing global HIV/AIDS contains a new provision that explicitly prevents it from funding contraceptives and other “family planning commodities.” This provision isn’t mandated by Congress; it’s a purely executive decision that women’s health and rights in the developing world. So why is it there? […]

  31. gabriot izatkins says:

    George Soros, who owns of the company in Spain Obama outsourced of the election to, is banned from Hungary …

  32. Cell-Phone Connectivity Changes Economies, Health Care, Lives Across Globe
    National Journal
    While many of the people living in the developing world do not have computers, they access the Web via their cell phones, he said at a Brookings Institution summit on mobile technology. The panel discussed the tantalizing and dizzying array of …

  33. katsujisab marca says:

    have been taken over by the All our problems have come from the Democrats & Obama. is the way out.

  34. lebertenho says:

    Barack Obama is a Directioner. The Queen Elizabeth is a Directioner. Katy Perry is a Directioner. if you’re a par …

  35. scholz saskowski says:

    42% of girls in the developing world are not in school. Yesterday the most women EVER were sworn into Congress. Edu …

  36. Interesting. How four years in the White House have aged Obama – and past presidents have suffered same fate …

  37. ston robba says:

    This is pure bunk – or should be. Fairness isn’t inconsistent with growth; it’s essential to it. The only way the economy can grow and create more jobs is if prosperity is more widely shared. The key reason why the recovery is so anemic is so much income and wealth are now concentrated at the top is America’s the va …
    Gracie Dute liked President Obama Has to Explain Why Fairness is Essential to Growth (and Why Some Democrats Have to S on 6 June 2012 (7 months ago).

  38. Teachers . key to success in investing in developing world but make sure local GPs have enough skin in the deal

  39. Designers, engineers and inventors share innovations at TED that are saving and improving lives in the developing world.  These individuals and teams are tackling tough issues with ingenuity, and as one speaker suggests, “getting more from less for more.” Relevant areas of interest, study and coursework include: Industrial Design, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Engineering Design Process, Environmental Studies, and Humanitarian Aid.

  40. scary things about america: if obama resigns or dies and joe biden doesn’t want to step in _hillary_ _clinton_ would…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *