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Book Group Discussion

Posted on: September 10th, 2013 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

In August we talked about the book Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East by David Rohde. This 2013 examination of American foreign aid engendered more diversity of response than most books we have read.

Dorothy Sampson:

If you think from the title of David Rohde’s book, “Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East,” that he has a solution to conflict and war in the Middle East, you will be disappointed.  This is the key question Rohde poses, “Is the purpose of American civilian aid programs to help the US government achieve its political goals in other parts of the world? Or should these efforts be purely humanitarian?”  After discussing a variety of dysfunctional aid efforts, Rohde leaves the reader to ponder whether there is a possibility of giving aid without strings, although, apparently, the recipients of the aid have already decided.  After 40 years of living under an American backed dictator, 82% of Egyptians said they did not want any type of assistance from the U.S.

In addition to the questionable US motives for giving aid, Rohde explains why aid has failed more often than not.   The general indictment is not listening to the locals we are aiding to find out what they actually want.  Our failures are also tied to the inconsistencies of policy due to political shifts in the US, to the staff that rotate out of areas of need in a few months, and to the preponderance of using contractors with their own profit agendas.  The Academy of Education Development, for example, paid its president $879,530 in 2007, despite officially being a nonprofit organization.

Rohde presents several disparate situations and couches his prescriptions in imperatives about what should change and what actions must be taken and, for the reader, the prescriptions all seem highly implausible.

Anne Millhollen:

This book clearly illustrates why our foreign aid has not been effective. It helps keep us realistic in the way that Carne Ross’ 2012 book, The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century discussed diplomacy and the way that Kofi Annan’s 2012 book Interventions: A Life in War and Peace examined the effectiveness of the United Nations. We who work for peace need to know how to do so effectively.

We talk about how appropriate foreign aid is one of the roads to future peace. We view appropriate as including aid that would help provide for the food, housing, education, health, environmental sustainability, economic security, etc. that are basic human rights. Rohde shows how and why so many of the USA’s past efforts have failed. When we advocate for appropriate foreign aid in the future, let’s remember his message–to involve the local people of the country so that they actually get what they need.

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