WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged Friday to overhaul U.S. foreign aid programs to increase assistance and give civilians a greater role in its delivery. But she warned that selling the public on the idea would be hard in troubled economic times.
"I believe in development and I believe with all my heart that it truly is an equal partner along with defense and diplomacy" in advancing foreign policy goals, she told a crowd of several thousand employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development at the agency's headquarters.
An advocate of what she calls "smart power" - combining diplomatic efforts with aid projects to promote democracy and improve America's image abroad - Clinton assured her audience that she would be making the case to give them greater authority and resources that during the Bush administration had largely shifted to the military.
"It is essential that the role of USAID and our other foreign assistance programs be strengthened, be adequately funded and be coordinated in a way that makes abundantly clear that the United States nderstands and supports development assistance," she said.
"I want to know from you what we need to do to make sure that USAID assumes once again the global leadership role you deserve it to have in the delivery of (aid)," Clinton said.
There has been great concern among aid and relief organizations that the United States has over the past eight years transferred much of the responsibility for foreign assistance to the military, particularly reconstruction programs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Clinton pledged she would "make sure that USAID assumes once again the global leadership role you deserve it to have" but stressed that to do that the agency would have to produce results "to regain the authorities and the resources that have drifted elsewhere."
At the same time, she delivered a firm note of caution that convincing Americans of the importance of foreign assistance during the worst recession since the Great Depression would be difficult.
"We have to be able to make the case that what you do for America is important even in these tough times," she said. "I believe we can make that case. But it can't be just a speech from me, it has to be the accumulated efforts of every one of you, that will enable me to make the case, not just to our Congress and not just to the White House, but to the American people."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)