Press Roundtable with USAID Administrator Green


For Immediate Release

Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email:

January 21, 2018
U.S. Embassy Baghdad
Baghdad, Iraq

MR. MCCLESKEY: So, we've got a limited amount of time because he's got to get to a dinner with the Ambassador. But I thought that it might be useful ahead of our field trip tomorrow and building on today, to pull back for a moment - here on the record. And address the question that I was asking myself when we woke up earlier this morning, why are we here?

And we've got, obviously, [Senior USAID Officials] here as well, they can chime in on background if there's some more specific --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: They're here because I made them come. But that's a different story.

MR. MCCLESKEY: The Administrator is on the record. So, if you want to open it up and then we'll take questions.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Obviously, first off, as Administrator of five months and a couple of weeks in, I do my best to get around to each of the regions to visit our teams. It's a chance to listen, let them kick the tires a little bit, ask about my vision for the agency, what I hear back in Washington, what I see as the challenges ahead. This particular mission, whether it be literally the mission here in Baghdad, or the mission that -- the operation we're going to be visiting tomorrow, of course takes on a very special significance given what it is -- what they are up against and given this moment in history. So, it's also a chance for me to come and see for myself some things, but also hear from our team, and our partners doing extraordinarily important work, whether it be the humanitarian work that we do, stabilization work that we do, that which we have done here, and that which brave men and women are doing right now, down in Syria. Of course, we'll see many of them tomorrow. So, that's what brings me here. My first trip here in about a dozen years. That was the last time I was in Iraq.

QUESTION: And this is the first -- most senior civilian from the Trump Administration to go to Syria, correct?


QUESTION: Okay. Explain what the difference is between reconstruction and stabilization.


QUESTION: I mean, you know, because this is an Administration that doesn't want to spend lots of money overseas, and why does it matter to do this here?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, stabilization, first off, I think, was pretty well laid out in Secretary Tillerson's remarks at Stanford, just a few days ago. Stabilization, being the restoration of essential services. Basically, getting a people up on their feet so they're able to take on many of these challenges themselves, or be on a pathway towards doing that, and maybe that's the significant difference. In terms of why here, does it matter, I think there are lots of reasons, too. First off, the obvious- the battle against ISIS, and secondly, this is a part of the world that many young men and women -- Americans in uniform, have, in some cases, paid the ultimate price, but given a great deal to taking on the challenge here, and in many ways, their success creates opportunities for us, a line of work for us, to hopefully solidify those victories with countries that are on a pathway to leading themselves to being more citizen responsive -- citizen centered, and perhaps more significantly than anything else right now, not supporters, or not harboring extremists and those who seek to do us harm.

QUESTION: So, I mean, everyone we talked to today, I mean, obviously Iraq's a much different story than Syria, because you have a partner here working with, in the government. How long do you think the U.S. will be in Syria without the okay of the government in charge?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Again, I point back to Secretary Tillerson's speech, which I thought was exceptionally good. In which he talked about, you know, the Administration's policy of not wanting to have this open-ended in Syria now. And instead, to be addressing immediate concerns with the humanitarian side, the restoration of essential services, the stabilization side, so that -- they can leave, so that level of presence and activity is no longer necessary. So, the Administration looks at the operation in Syria as something extraordinarily important. As something that shouldn't be open-ended. I think the Secretary is very clear, I agree with him, in the long run, the only solution is a political one.

QUESTION: I think we're done with this. All right, do you want to keep asking questions?

QUESTION: And are you announcing new aid money?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: First off, having to spend time looking at the conditions there and talking to people, as I've been doing here. Had some good meetings today, but we'll see.

QUESTION: The kind of thing that Tillerson talked about seemed very long-term, and it also seemed like it's going to involve a very big investment. I mean, it's keeping the Iranians at bay, it's stabilizing the country until there's a new political situation, not aiding parts of the country that are run by Assad, is the US really ready for that kind of commitment?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It's really a question for Secretary Tillerson. I think Secretary Tillerson laid out a long-term view. I think he was laying out a plan that deals with the immediate, but also looks ahead as he sees what the challenges are. For our side, the work that we do, I think it's far more immediate, the humanitarian assistance that we do is immediate and it's now, and you know, we're not only trying to mobilize resources, but as part of that, our obligation to taxpayers and to the people that we are seeking to serve here, making sure we do it in the most effective and efficient way we possibly can. On the stabilization side, again, as ISIS is defeated, or chased from the battlefield, it leaves behind immediate needs, and if people -- if Syrians are going to return to communities, there needs to be a basic level of services and there needs to be something to return to, and that's part of what we do. So, the Secretary was talking more expansively, our piece is a little more focused right now.

MR. MCCLESKEY: And one clarification, Michele, that the humanitarian assistance that we're doing, which today has been over 7.7 billion, is throughout Syria, though. It's all the 14 governance areas, and then the stabilization piece, as the Secretary laid out, is only in the areas that have been liberated. So we're not engaged in providing essential services in regime controlled areas.

QUESTION: If I could pick up on that, looking ahead to what will, hopefully, be, you know, the end state, if you will, for stabilization. Will that not require at some point, some sort of reconciliation with the state -- there is the political negotiation to come but that bridging mechanism to connect to, perhaps, state-based services to allow for people and goods to be transported.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: You are asking very good questions for us all to be posed and discussing at some point in the future. Knock on wood. We all recognize there has to be some kind of a political solution. We recognize that. What that entails, what it looks like is not clear at this point. But there must be a political solution.

QUESTION: And I know the Secretary talked about Geneva as a possible mechanism in which to broker those negotiations by -- or against, sort of that bridging discussion, might Astana be a framework? Would a new more technical modality be required to work out some of those details?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: We believe strongly in the Geneva process.

QUESTION: Is this the only -- is Syria the only place in the world where you have development experts that are not there at the invitation of the government? How unusual is this?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It's a good question. One reason you get some hesitancy from us is because you are asking a question that people in development agencies ask all the time. And that's where the line is between development and humanitarian resilience. And that is, I think, why we are hesitating a bit.

SENIOR USAID OFFICIAL: I'll just say - so USAID has done programming before in places without the government sanctioning and saying (inaudible), so cross border programming happened in Serbia both before and after the bombing in Serbia. There was work done in Zimbabwe, there was work done in Venezuela at some point -- at one point. So, it's not entirely novel, but it isn't usual.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: And we did as we call it "offshore" work. So, for example, we were working from Bangkok on Burma years ago. When the government in Burma was not conducive to being able to work. And also, in an interesting way that question is going to take on different meaning for the discussions we have been having earlier in the day with the extraordinary number of displaced communities, and people around the world. South Sudanese being serviced in Uganda and such, it's going to change those discussions I think, and those questions quite a bit.

SENIOR USAID OFFICIAL: Like I said, I used to live in South Sudan where the government of South Sudan, before there was an independent South Sudan, tried to kill us, and would bomb us, and try to chase us out of the country. And that was all going on for many, many years.

QUESTION: Back to the Tillerson speech, not to get philosophical, what's your view of this Administration's view of humanitarian aid, of use of USAID. You know, I think we're still trying to figure out if this is an Administration that wants to have a robust presence abroad, or wants to pull back. It may be case by case. And specifically, to areas when it comes to security, and the conflict zones that we will talk about tomorrow.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, this Administration, the U.S. government continues to be, including under this Administration, the most generous humanitarian donor in the world.

QUESTION: By which metric?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: By just sheer contributions.

MR. MCCLESKEY: In Syria, we're the largest humanitarian donor.


ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Yeah, by far. And [Senior USAID Official] I think you were the one -- I think this is right -- that number two and three added together don't reach number one. Something like that.

SENIOR USAID OFFICIAL: I would check that fact if it came out of my mouth. I think that's true, but --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I mean, it's in that range, so absolutely. And on the development side, if you look at the National Security Strategy, I think development fits into it very nicely. And there are a number of references to the importance of development in American prosperity. Importance of development in our National Security, importance of development in projecting American values. So, I do think it fits in very well.

QUESTION: Do you -- I mean, in the atmosphere though, budget cuts, they are talking about 30 percent budget cuts. How do you prioritize?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It's challenging, sure. It is, of course, these are challenging. I mean, we recognize, and it's been the case as far back as I can think of, we will never have all the resources we would like to take on every challenge in the world. I mean, it's just, we know that. And so, when it comes to meeting challenges, you know, the humanitarian side in particular, we do our best to meet the needs. We end up -- we just came off a very difficult hurricane season back in the U.S. We had six DART teams out simultaneously at one point.

MR. MCCLESKEY: The Disaster Assistance Response Teams.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: And so, obviously, by definition, some of those are unpredictable, but some of them are man-made, too. But some are unpredictable. So, it is not an easy thing. It's not an easy thing. We spend a lot of time at the agency talking to my former colleagues on the Hill. We go up there all the time trying to be very honest about what we see, about the challenges that we see.

QUESTION: And, I mean, this particular post-ISIS environment, does that kind of animate this Administration more? The President more? Because he's had such a focus on that?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I don't know. I don't know how to answer that. I'm not sure.

QUESTION: Does it make this more of a priority for you guys? I mean, you talk about hurricanes and the biggest refugee crisis the world has seen since World War II. I mean, there's so many --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I can tell you how I view it. These guys are tired of me talking about it, but I view the disasters that we see in the world today, the four top one's being man-made, as extraordinary challenges for us. And how it is that we can continue in the tradition of always being there when crisis hits, but also meeting, simultaneously, the challenge of making sure that we not only do so in the most effective way we can, but I think at USAID, we're proud of -- we think we're truly compassionate. So, we not only try to meet immediate crisis needs, but also help some of these countries boost their resilience against future shock and future crisis. One of the best examples of that is the work -- and I got a chance to see it first hand, but the work our talented teams have been doing in Ethiopia. Where we do, obviously, development work, and we've had to do food assistance work, but we've also done really quite amazing work in bolstering the ability of many communities that have been struck by the third consecutive rural drought in a row. To withstand some of that, so that, for example in the case of Ethiopia, despite three years of drought, it has not fallen into fully fledged famine. And at least some of that is due to the really tremendous work that the donor community, USAID, and our partners on the ground in Ethiopia, have done.

MR. MCCLESKEY: That's part of the Feed the Future umbrella --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Part of the Feed the Future work that we do. So, it really is -- that's a big part of our work.

SENIOR USAID OFFICIAL: And back just on your other question, both Iraq and Syria were very much a priority for the last five, six years, so the numbers that we get to 4.7 billion is -- it's been an important thing all the way through. And the planning for Mosul, the planning for the stabilization activities you'll see tomorrow, the planning for the HA, that goes back two years. So, it's not necessarily a totally new emphasis.

QUESTION: Have you had blowback from the comments that the President allegedly made in the White House about "shithole countries," around the world? Have you had people out in the field, you know, getting called in like Ambassadors have been or diplomats?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: You know, in my own view of this, at the agency, our job is to show what it is that we stand for by the actions that we do. I mean, it may sound trite, but I really believe that. So, no, I haven't personally. I've been very busy, but no I haven't.

QUESTION: And just a, you know, as a former politician yourself --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Recovering politician.

QUESTION: Recovering politician. I mean, Americans seem to think that we spend -- and the President feeds this because he always talks about, why are we spending money on bridges in wherever when we should be spending it on our infrastructure at home. How do you tell Americans that it's worth it to be spending all these billions of dollars in Iraq and Syria?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Some of that is on us. We just need to a better job of telling the story, and I think we are working hard at that. I personally believe that the message that we're trying to push forward -- this Administration, under my leadership, is to remind Americans that as much as anything, we're trying to help people take care of themselves. That we're trying to bolster the ability of other countries, peoples, civil society, local, regional, national governments to have the ability to take on their own challenges, their own future. I am a tremendous believer in human dignity and I am one of those that believes every human being naturally wants to be able to take things on for themselves. And so I spend a lot -- you'll hear me talking about this a lot, because I think sometimes, well-intended people lose sight of that. And they talk about what we're giving. And again on the humanitarian side in particular, we're remarkably generous people. But I strongly believe that what we need to do, what we should be focusing on, what we should be talking about, is helping people with a hand up, helping people develop the ability to lead their own development journey. We can't walk in front of them. We need to walk at their side. And there's another rule that I have said ad nauseum to my staff here. We can't want it more than they do. And so I think it's awfully important that we are in close contact with our host country contacts all the time.

I think we need to be honest about things that we see, humble in the mistakes that we've made, of which we've made many, over the years. But I like to talk in terms of development journeys. And if countries are willing to do, what in some cases are tough things, tough choices, I for one think we should be there with them, walk with them. I'm from flyover country. I'm from Wisconsin. My in-laws farmed down in the Midwest, back in Illinois. And when I talk to them about this idea of trying to help people to be able to take things on themselves, my farmer family says "yep, that's what we do." If they think that we're falling into the stereotype that you sometimes hear, that we're giving buckets of money to bad guys, they get angry. And they should. They should be outraged. And you know, we don't. We are as cheap with every dollar as you can possibly imagine. We squeeze every dollar, as much as we possibly can. We measure to death every dollar we spend.

I've just spent time, a number of us have spent time trying to design or accumulate new metrics to help us measure where countries are in that development journey, so that we can hopefully in the future, be able to prioritize investments, so that we're not just measuring, not -- I'm an old malaria guy, so we're not measuring bed nets, but measuring whether they have a system to get the bed nets into homes, and to message how they're used. I'm more interested in whether they have rapid diagnostic tests in malaria. So we're really trying to develop metrics that help us show countries where they are, what their needs might be. We can offer counsel on how they can get there. They have to want to do it. But for me, if they're willing to make tough choices, as a friend and ally, I think we should be there to help.

QUESTION: In this region, are they ready for that, to make tough choices, because obviously the U.S. invests --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: That's why we're flying tomorrow. I learn a tremendous amount in these trips. I really do. I like listening.

QUESTION: What is the metric though, in terms of determining whether people are ready to make tough choices, in Syria, in the area that we're going to, when there's no local government --when there's been a -- where we've seen examples of people, there's no judicial system and we've seen people taking sort of punitive measures. How do you determine if a newly --

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well my guess is they're pretty low on those metrics. I don't mean to be facetious about it. But, first off, we're still working internally in developing these metrics to help us better sort some of this out. There is simply no doubt that where we're going tomorrow is one of the most complex, daunting, and challenging places anywhere in the world today.

QUESTION: Right, but what I see is a U.S. making an investment in humanitarian -- and trying -- and stabilization efforts. Even though it's not clear what kind of government would be in place, there haven't been elections, whether the government that will be in place would be on board, or supportive, or have their own agendas in using the benefits that have been poured in by USAID?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, our humanitarian assistance is tied to those in need. It's, you know -- it is a -- it is different, and measured differently, I think that our development assistance. And stabilization is obviously a priority of American policy. That's about a strategic -- that's a strategic priority based upon a number of factors in a conflict area.

MR. MCCLESKEY: I want to think -- ahead of tomorrow -- one of the things that will be interesting to see particularly on the stabilization side is that, where we're going in particular just months ago was, in a sense, the capital of the Caliphate, and now we're in there helping re-establish essential services. So, it's still very early. And that journey, which is one reason, I think, you're going. It's to see how do this (inaudible).

SENIOR USAID OFFICIAL: Anyone that lived under ISIS for two years has had to make -- has had to make incredibly tough decisions that we can't even imagine. "Do I stay? Do I go? Do I sneak out? When do I go home?" There's a risk of explosive remnants of war. "Do I leave my kids behind? Do I flee to Turkey?" I mean, these people are making incredibly tough decisions and we're standing next to them, as the Administrator says, helping them get back on their feet. And that's, hopefully -- that's what we're going to see more of.

SENIOR USAID OFFICIAL: And the stabilization, I think, now is -- as the Administrator said -- not for -- for political reasons: we have policy reasons to be doing that. But if -- if there is a -- when there is a political agreement, and it's something that we can work with this lays the groundwork for doing the development work later on. So, if we worked with local councils like we do in the South and citizens' groups like we're doing in Raqqa, if we do that now and do the stabilization work for the political reasons we're doing that for, and if there ends up being a political agreement and elections in a country that we're giving assistance to, we've laid some groundwork in some places to do the longer-term development work.

QUESTION: No, I appreciate that, I was just saying that there is risk involved, because there's a lot of "if's" in those sentences -- in that sentence. And one of the "if's" could be "if a government-elected doesn't support the values or the goals that the United States is trying to seek, there's a sunk cost at a very political, fragile time."

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: We cannot want it more than they do.

QUESTION: I beg your pardon?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: We cannot want it more than they do.

QUESTION: So, in driving this forward, talking about the American support for these activities. You know, when we're actually going to support them or don't, so it's one thing to follow on the American-- lead or assisted war, to help this recovery. But the future for terrorism is -- places like Yemen and Somalia and across Africa. Should we expect the U.S. -- should the American people expect more USAID participation and activity to come, and all of these places following the guys in uniform, just like has happened here?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: (Inaudible). I am a product of Tanzania, and I often point out that when people would come to visit me -- I was there 2007, 2008, 2009 -- they'd always come and say, "Boy, you've got a beautiful new embassy." And I'd say, "Yeah, it's because they blew the last one up."

And I was struck by the Tanzania story, because in the rubble and ashes of that terrible day -- just a horrible day -- the American people, through USAID and others, were among the first to respond. Tanzania was not a particularly close ally at the time, it was a non-aligned nation at best. But began to work with them to take on some of their poverty-enhanced challenges.

In 2008, just a few months before their 10th anniversary, President George W. Bush made the first ever official visit by a sitting U.S. President. And I remember, because I was the Ambassador, the streets were lined ten deep, even though we had hidden what the route was -- which wasn't -- it's not that big a place, you can figure out where he's going to go, right? But it was an extraordinary thing. And I remember George W. Bush, to his credit, signs up. You know, "Thank you, President Bush --" or whatever it was. And President Bush was smart enough to say, you know, "It's not me. It's the bed nets. It's the meds. It's the fact that, you know, kids go to school." It's -- so, you know, it's can we solve every problem? No. Can we prevent every crisis? Can I put them out of business? Sorry. But I'm absolutely convinced -- I've been doing this a long time -- we have the ability to make a measurable difference in a number of ways.

I do think we have the ability, through our tools deployed the right way, to take on conditions that, left unchecked, lead to despair. And despair is -- I won't say it causes terrorism, but I will say it's a condition that bad guys know how to exploit. And I've seen it work, you know, I've walked all around -- hitchhiked around East Africa. I saw Idi -- I've saw Uganda not so long after Idi Amin. I've seen a number of these things, and it isn't perfect, and we make mistakes, but the work that we do, and the generosity of the American people is irreplaceable. It makes a difference.

QUESTION: You seem to be making the case for aid in development, but, on a practical level, is AID working with DOD or potentially -- should we expect to see either greater coordination or some more resources to these specific areas that terrorism is spreading?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: We work very closely together, we have 27 USAID staff either at the Pentagon or in the combatant commands. They turn to us for development counsel. We work very closely together. For obvious reasons in this part of the world, it's a good relationship. Secretary Mattis has been quite eloquent about the importance of USAID and our resources. And I met with him one on one a few weeks ago and talked about it quite directly.

H.R. McMaster, I think, is a real friend to the agency and very supportive of what it is that we do. I think that there are few people who have a greater appreciation for what development and humanitarian assistance can do, than men and women in uniform or men and women who were in uniform.

And, you know, I did some work with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, and they've got a wonderful thing called the NSAC, the National Security Advisory Council, which, last time I checked, was 160 or 170 retired three- and four-stars, and they're among the fiercest advocates for development and development resources. And you can ask them, and they're quite eloquent about it; the importance of the work that we do. Again, I'm not arguing either/or, but I'm proud of the role we can play.

SENIOR USAID OFFICIAL: You mentioned Somalia, Yemen, and difficult parts of Africa. USAID is already there working with DOD where they are, do you work --

QUESTION: I'm just trying to gauge, is there any kind of trend? Is it increasing as we are seeing operations are increasing?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: You know, I hope not. I know. I hope things calm down.

QUESTION: How about AID's independence? Whether -- are you confident that it won't be merged into State, or?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I think, that's -- it's a question for the Secretary; I'll say this. We've got nothing but support. You know, I think we all recognize that we have different roles to play. We support valuable tools, we support American foreign policy. I meet with the Secretary, to the extent that we're both in the country -- I meet with him every week, and we have a weekly Secretary meeting. I'm always invited in. I think they really appreciate -- particularly, we do reporting on humanitarian hotspots and I think they recognize we're a valuable part of the foreign policy apparatus.

MR. MCCLESKEY: We have to end it there; we're already late for the Ambassador. But we'll see y'all tomorrow. And I'll see you y'all later.

Last updated: January 23, 2018

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