U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Interview With C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" Host Susan Swain and Washington Post's Carol Morello and Wall Street Journal's Ben Kesling

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For Immediate Release

Monday, November 26, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov

C-SPAN Studios
Washington, DC
November 21, 2018

MODERATOR: It's Thanksgiving weekend. Our guest is the USAID Administrator, Ambassador Mark Green, former congressman for four terms, also a deep background in diplomacy, humanitarian assistance in development programs, and sworn into this position in August of 2017. Ambassador Green, thank you for being our guest.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Great to be with you.

MODERATOR: Let me introduce the two reporters who will be asking questions: Carol Morello, is Washington Post diplomatic correspondent; Ben Kesling works for the Wall Street Journal in national security issues. Thanks to both of you. Carol, your first time here, and you're up first with a question.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Ambassador Green, since you've been in this office you've spent a lot of time talking about how the goal should be to eliminate the need for foreign aid by encouraging resiliency so that countries can weather disasters. After a year and a half, can you give a concrete example of where you've made the most progress?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, so first off, internally I think we've made a ton of progress in terms of reshaping ourselves around that vision. You know, we took the opportunity of the executive order to redesign government to really embrace that. So, we have 850 staff members from all across the agency, including about 300 from overseas. And we've looked at designing metrics that measure capacity in countries. We've looked at realigning some of our bureaus to be more responsive in line with that vision.

In terms of concrete results, I'd point to somewhere like Ethiopia. Of course, you and I traveled together to Ethiopia not long after I got into the office. If you take a look at a place like Ethiopia, which has had what, four consecutive years of drought, and yet not fallen into full famine. I'd credit some of the work that we've been able to do in building resilience in a number of those drought afflicted areas to help them to withstand the challenges there. So that would be one concrete example. But I could point to other things in the country of Peru, for example, in the work that we're doing with the government to fight cocoa production. We've been able to help them build internal support and capacity to provide alternative economics and livelihoods for cocoa farmers, to the point now where the government is funding nearly all of them. When we started off, we were the ones who were doing the funding, now they're doing the funding largely, and we're helping more with technical assistance in connecting them to market. So, in that part of Peru and on that score, I would say their capacity is developing.

Every country's in a different place in their journey to self-reliance, as we call it, and we know that in some cases, it's going to be a long time. But there are countries like Peru, like India, which really are largely self-reliant, and we're just helping to catalyze investments and take them to the next level.

QUESTION: Does Secretary Pompeo share your vision, and do you see any differences between him and Secretary Tillerson?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: First part of the question: Yes, he does. We've certainly heard him talk about self-reliance and the journey to self-reliance. He's been terrifically supportive. He's been, I think, quite good to work with. I think he sees, as we do, that our foreign assistance tools are important parts of American foreign policy. In style, he's another former member of Congress, like I am. So, I think he tends to analyze things in a strategic political way, like I do. And so, we find it easy to communicate about the challenges that we see and the opportunities that we see to build bipartisan support around America's foreign policy.

QUESTION: You've spoken a lot about what you call a "clear choice" doctrine, which is the United States presents this option to countries where aid is needed. There's a clear choice if they choose China as a partner, that they are, in theory, mortgaging their future to that country. And if there's a clear choice, if they choose the United States as an aid partner, which is an aid partner that, in theory, has few strings attached and wants to get out of the aid business in that country eventually. How do these two -- how do the two philosophies meet up with clear choice where you're trying to recruit countries, in essence, to take aid from the United States, and not from China, but at the same time, you want to get out of the aid business eventually in these countries? How can those -- how can those two philosophies interact with each other?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, you know, I don't view clear choice as trying to get countries to take our aid. What I do is, I view clear choice as a matter of choosing the model of self-reliance. So, what we're trying to do is help countries lead themselves to build their own capacity to be more citizen responsive and take on the challenges that their citizens identify that their country's face. In the case of China -- of course it's not just China, but China being by far the largest player on the authoritarian side -- they look at it very differently; it's more about what China can get out of a country instead of helping countries to lead themselves. And we try to make that choice very clear. You know, we look at it from the development perspective. Whenever you're dealing with China there's the great power competitions, as we talk about it in the larger sense. But in our case, what we we're trying to do is help countries to understand, from a development perspective, that if they do choose the authoritarian model, what that provides, what the fine print is. So, it's unsustainable debt very often. It's tying up strategic assets. In some cases, it's robbing particularly young citizens of their birthright, that birthright being access to natural resources.

So, from a development perspective, we're trying to provide a clear choice in the models. One being, if you partner with us, it's hard work. We're going to be incentivizing, often times, difficult decisions, institutional reforms. But at the end of the day, what we offer, what we promise, is that you can go from being a traditional aid recipient to a partner, to we hope, a fellow donor. If you choose the authoritarian model, you're talking about tying up assets, you're talking about a journey in which you serve China, the authoritarian power, more than you're serving your own people.

QUESTION: And is there any -- are there any issues with that messaging with countries that we provide aid, that there's concern that the United States might just cut and run at a certain point, and, you know, leave these folks, on the road to self-reliance, a little before they're ready to do so?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, you know, I've made clear, I like to talk about it as a journey to self-reliance. What I've said is, where countries are willing to make the tough choices, and the tough decisions that are inherent in that model of promoting self-reliance, we'll walk with them along the way. Now remember, many of these countries aren't looking for traditional assistance. What they're looking for is self-sufficiency and an opportunity to have private investment. They want to have an enterprise driven future. They want to be able to create jobs for their people, particularly young people in countries. Much of the developing world as you know, demographically, they're very young, and so they're looking at a young citizenry who are hungry for economic opportunities. That's what they want. So, what we try to do is to help them, again, take on challenges, but really create the enabling environment that will allow for private investment, private enterprise to grow, to stimulate opportunities for their own people. So, I don't see a conflict in -- so far, the countries that we're working with, they don't see a conflict either.

QUESTION: Do you think foreign aid should be tied to support that countries show for U.S. policies? Nikki Haley has talked about taking names of countries that don't vote with the United States at the UN, and President Trump recently threatened to cut off aid to Central America if they can't stop migration. Does it make sense to stop aid to programs in Central America that are designed to get at the very root causes of migration?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, I take the statements from the President as being, I think, a clear message to all of us, that foreign assistance, or development assistance in particular, must always serve our best interest. I happen to believe that it does. The tools and programs that we have I think do serve America's interest. But I think that's what he's emphasizing and I'm very comfortable with that. You know, what my job is, I think to provide, where applicable, development tools that provide options to the White House, to the Secretary of State, that will advance American interests, that be economic interests, in terms of opening up markets and creating trading partners. They can be strategic interests in the sense of building closer alliances and coalition partners. But I'm very comfortable that I think our assistance does serve American interests.

QUESTION: You've also talked a lot about the need to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and the United States has had some pretty tough sanctions on Venezuela. Often these sanctions are as tough on ordinary civilians as they are on the regime, maybe even tougher. You went there this summer yourself, to the border. So, do you think that sanctions are becoming too expensive for American taxpayers who then have to pour in hundreds of millions of dollars into humanitarian aid to people who are hurt by sanctions policies?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well again, I view all of these tools as serving American interest, and advancing American leadership, and American foreign policy. In the case of Venezuela, as we know by the end of this year, something like 3 million migrants will have fled and gone into a number of neighboring countries potentially -- certainly burdening the region, we hope not destabilizing the region, but certainly creating economic burden. We have to get at the cause of that problem, and the cause of that problem is a regime, which is tyrannical, clamping down on its people and denying them basic opportunities, and quite frankly the tools necessary for any kind of an economic future. Whatever it takes to do that in terms of our state craft tools, like sanctions, we're certainly supportive of the Administration's foreign policy and believe that we are an important part of that.

QUESTION: You say you're an important part of the Administration's foreign policy and everything that's happening is in the American interest. Are there discussions with the White House, other members of the Administration, as to what exactly American interests are abroad, with issues like aid, sanctions, trade policies? And do you find yourself ever at odds when you're around the table having those discussions saying, "Look it's not always the immediate decision that is in America's interest, it's things that are second, third, fourth, order effects of those which diplomats, aid workers, et cetera, are left having to sort out?"

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, first off, I'm delighted that we have a seat at the table, part of inter-agency discussions, our opinions, are solicited, and I believe that we have good input. I think our job is to provide clear-eyed analyses of whatever part of the world it is that's the subject of the day. And we talk about it in terms of humanitarian effects, but also development opportunities and opportunities to help countries move to be stronger trading partners and strategic partners of the U.S. The fact that we have a voice in those discussions, we are grateful for and we think we're an important contributor. Again, we know that our voice is but one voice of many in the discussion. Again, I think the fact that our advice is solicited, and I think valued and listened to, we think is great, we think it's important.

QUESTION: And sort of a follow on to that: Under your leadership, USAID has done more to deal with some of these issues with tied aid. Tied aid, for those who don't know what it is, is a requirement that USAID dollars, when they go some place are essentially used to not buy locally, but buy something that has to do with American products. So, some of our aid money when it goes abroad, returns back to the US a bit. In an Administration with a President who focuses on America first, on making sure that American workers and the American economy gets benefits, how does something like reducing this requirement on tied aid, and sending more American money to be used abroad in local markets? Does that always jive well with the Administration? Or have you had to have conversations about that?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, let me unpack that a little bit. In the area of food aid, Bureau of Food Security -- Feed the Future is obviously the flagship program of food security. We certainly support flexibility. In some cases, you've got functioning local markets where it makes sense to provide financial assistance, either directly in cash, or in eTransfers, that keep the markets vibrant and, also reinforce local production. We think that's great. But there are other places where there aren't functioning markets, and in those cases, foodstuffs, traditional food aid is the right answer. It's a case-by-case situation in that sense.

But, you know, again, what we try to do is to incentivize private investment to accelerate economic growth, private economic growth in those countries, whatever it takes. And we go country by country, in our analysis. We unveiled something a few months ago, of what we call our road maps, country by country. We have 17 objective indicators. And we take a look at where countries are on their journey to self-reliance, on a wide range of factors, everything from civil society to trade policy. And we try to incentivize the kinds of reforms internally in those countries that will hasten private investment, build their capacity, strengthen their leadership, make it more responsive, so that countries can go from being more dependent upon aid to being independent of aid, which is what every country wants, and certainly is not only in our financial interest, but more importantly, I think, it's in our national value set.

We want countries to look at our partnership as being a hand-up and not a hand-out. We want to help them along the way. Some of the strongest supporters of that model are countries which are beneficiaries of aid. Take a look at a country like South Korea, which was not all that long ago entirely dependent upon assistance on the U.S. and others. And now, of course, it's one of the biggest donor countries and a very significant trading partner. That model is the model that we would like to see for every country, recognizing in some countries, it's a long way off. But that's certainly the goal. You know, it's not just what we want, it's what these countries want. These countries want to be self-reliant. They want to be able to take care of their own people. They want to be -- they want to have a vibrant economy. They want to be growing. And so, it's in our interest as well as theirs.

QUESTION: And has that model of aid had extensive traction with the Administration? Or have you had to work to sell that idea that, look, we need to provide aid for a while, and then we'll start seeing these follow-on effects?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Yes, I mean, I feel very good about how the broad Administration takes a look at the approach we're taking, self-reliance very much in line, I think, with the Administration's philosophy of promoting private enterprise and helping countries to take on their own challenges, strengthening sovereign governments. So, I see it as very part and parcel of the broad American interest in the Trump Administration foreign policy.

MODERATOR: Five minutes left.

QUESTION: Okay, you say you're very grateful to have a seat at the table, particularly when budget cuts are being discussed. But the Administration keeps proposing very deep cuts in foreign aid. And Congress keeps restoring them because of the broad bipartisan support for it. Really, how effective are you at pushing back if the Administration keeps coming back with 30 percent or greater cuts every year?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I'll let others evaluate and judge my effectiveness as Administrator. But, you know, look, what I see in the Administration's budget request, is a clear signal that we need to make our dollars go further, that we need to be -- we need to optimize efficiency, and we're constantly looking for ways to do that. It's also in line with an earlier request. And it's also that our programs have to advance American policy. We have to be able to show the value in every way, strategic value, economic value, taxpayer dollar value. And so that's something we take on relentlessly, day in and day out. So, I think it's a charge from the White House, and we accept it, we embrace it. And we do everything we possibly can to expand our effectiveness. I think that's my core job requirement is to do that. And the rest will take care of itself, I think.

QUESTION: Are you preparing in any way to provide an aid package for North Korea, if the discussions get that far?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: We have not -- no-one has talked to us about doing such, so, no, we aren't. On the other hand, we're constantly -- one of the things that I brought to the agency, I hope, is scenario planning for everything. But, no, we have -- we have not had any such discussions.

QUESTION: The Vice President's Office, Vice President Pence, has sort of led the way in wanting to prioritize aid to religious minorities. A place where that is happening is in Iraq right now, sort of, that plan is sort of under way. Were there any issues on the USAID side of things as that new doctrine was developed where instead of targeting aid to those who might most need it in that country, it was instead directed just to a group of religious minorities in a country that's already war torn after years of U.S. intervention and the war with the Islamic State?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, let me take that apart into two different things. So, in terms of our work to support religious freedom, it's not solely northern Iraq, but a number of places in the world. Certainly, in Burma, working with the distressed Rohingya population, which has suffered in unbelievable ways, both those who have had to flee into Bangladesh, but also those -- quite frankly, I'm even more worried about -- who have been left behind and really continue to put up with all kinds of atrocities and oppression. So that's an example of our work to try to support, in that case, it's a religious and ethnic minority. But religious freedom is a core American value and we are very, very supportive of that. And we think some of our work enhances that.

In the case of northern Iraq and the Middle East, it's something a little more specific. So, in the case of northern Iraq, what we're trying to do is undo some of the damage that ISIS perpetrated on ethnic and religious minorities. So, you have from the Yazidis to Orthodox Christians to Chaldean Catholics, and others. We're doing work that's true development work. So, our work isn't rebuilding churches, our work is rebuilding and connecting water systems and electrical systems, so that families can hopefully return there, but certainly those families that are there and have suffered in numerous ways, can continue to see their future there.

We're also providing assistance to places like Mosul, which is an important part of Iraq's future, certainly northern Iraq's future. And there we're doing some of the infrastructure work that will hopefully restore it as an economic engine for the region in a place where young Iraqi's of all backgrounds are able to see a brighter future and pursue university education, pursue some of those jobs that they seek. So, we view our work there in development terms. It is true that it is largely going towards religious minorities and ethnic minorities, but that's also in line with who suffered terribly under ISIS, and their reign of terror there.

QUESTION: Are you doing anything to minimize the potential that by directing USAID to certain religious minorities, you may be helping fuel sectarian differences already deep in the country?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, obviously, our work has to fit within the larger Iraq plan, led by the mission there, the Statement Department mission there. So, we are constantly looking to make sure that this work is aligned with a brighter future for Iraq and part of American foreign policy in Iraq. As you know, we don't provide money directly to churches or congregations or diocese. We work through long-standing partners, and sub-partners, who have boots on the ground. So, again, our work we see in development terms.

But, you know, it was interesting, when I was in Iraq, the Government in Baghdad as well as the government in Erbil, refer to these communities as component communities, not minority communities. And I stopped the conversation and I said, "Well, what do you mean by component communities?" And they said, "Well, we use the term component in Arabic because it means a part of the whole, and that a country cannot be whole unless all of its parts are vibrant and strong." And so, what we are really trying to do there is to repair the mosaic that Iraq has enjoyed, particularly in northern Iraq, for many, many centuries. So, it is part of Iraq's future, where they have a vibrant, whole mosaic that is respectful of people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. That's in line with what the government wants. It's certainly in line with our interests. And it certainly is part of the final defeat of ISIS. I think to defeat ISIS you not only have to beat them on the battleground, but you have to roll back some of what they've taken from those people.

QUESTION: Was there pushback on your part with some of this messaging that seemed to prioritize just the religious minorities, the Christians in Iraq, in a lot of cases? Did you push back against the Vice President's Office saying that we need to -- we need to prioritize those who are most in need, and it just so happens that in a lot of cases, it does include those minority groups?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: No need to push back. We're certainly in line with the Vice President. Again, these are people in communities that have disproportionately suffered, and continue to suffer. So, the fact that we have programs there to help rebuild the fabric, the mosaic of face, but also the economic fabric of those communities, is in line with what we do in many parts of the world. This is a country, clearly, that is closely tied to American interest. And again, defeating ISIS in our view, means that we have to help rebuild the fabric in a part of the country that may be distant from Baghdad in some ways, but we know is an integral part of its future.

MODERATOR: Just about out of time. One last question from either of you.

QUESTION: Well since we're in the Middle East, you've spoken about how you'd like to -- there needs to be an improvement in conditions in some of the camps around the world. And I'm wondering in the Middle East, do you find that the administration's policies, particularly when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, that that makes it more difficult for you to do your job, given the cuts in UNRWA?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, let me take that apart a little bit. So, our overwhelming humanitarian goal is to relieve suffering, is to try to provide some relief in many parts of the world, but particularly where communities have been displaced, where people have been displaced. And we continue to do that. We recognize that humanitarian assistance is rarely an answer, it's a response. We need a long term political solution to many of these conflicts. And in many cases, we recognize that humanitarian assistance is but a precondition to creating opportunities for political settlement. So, we're part of the Administration's approach in this part of the world. When called upon, we provide humanitarian assistance. It always has to be in line with American interests. I think it is. But certainly, it's a complicated situation. We're all looking for a political solution that will allow for a brighter future to communities that have suffered for a long time.

MODERATOR: Last question from me. What kinds of policy debates are you anticipating with the Democratic-controlled House?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, I think the good news is the kind of work we do has strong bipartisan support. So, we look forward to working with the new leadership in the House as we worked with the previous leadership. There'll be a good healthy debate. I'm sure there'll be lots of oversight. We welcome that. We should have oversight. We should have people putting us through our paces, and I'm sure they will.

MODERATOR: Thanks for being our guest, that's excellent.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Last updated: March 30, 2020

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