Issue 6, 2013. December-January

   

U.S. FOREIGN AID AND GEORGIA: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK MULLEN

Washington is looking closely at its budget amid the negotiations for spending cuts and priority changes. Investor.ge’s Maia Edilashvili spoke with Mark Mullen, the former chair of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, about how the discussion over spending could impact foreign aid and the assistance Georgia receives from the United States.

Maia Edilashvili

This year, the US budget request for the Department of State and USAID totals $47.8 billion, which is a 6% reduction from FY 2012. Mark Mullen, a longtime expat in Tbilisi and observer of the developments in Georgia through TblPod.com, weighs inon the possible implications for Georgia.

Q: Majority of US citizens polled by Gallup say they are in favor of cutting government spending in the area of foreign aid. Where do you stand on this point and why?

A: That is true, but if you ask Americans to divide up the budget into what they think it should be spent on, the average percentage they pick for foreign assistance is many times what is actually spent, which is well below 1%.

Q: Given the strategic importance of foreign aid where would you justify the cuts? Generally speaking, how important is and should be the ideological aspect when the government discusses the possible cuts? Are the positions of the Democrats and Republicans different on this issue?


A: My own personal opinion is that US assistance should do six main things: 1) (and most important) spent much more of the funds on young people studying in the United States. This is by far the most important and cost effective funds the US spends. There should also be more programs to bring Americans to Georgia. 2) All funds that the US government spends on aid should be much more transparent. 3) The US tends to give all its money to American organizations. I think it should get better at giving out smaller amounts of money or people and organizations in the country. 4) It should spend less time on deliverables, and strategic planning, and demanding short term results, 5) It should take more risks and fund newer and more interesting things in different and new ways. What USAID funds now is very similar to what it was funding ten years ago, but the world is different. And 6) The US government should have a much longer time horizon and engage more in the battle of ideas, engaging in a conversation with populations, rather than trying only to build institutions.

Q: What is your information and opinion for the FSU countries and in particular, the Caucasus region and Georgia? How significant is this part of the world for Washington to be qualified as a priority when the government decides on spending priorities?

A: Georgia is important and has been for over twenty years. The amount Georgia gets now and will continue to get will be very very high as a portion of the population. A great deal of that is because of Georgia's progress in things like administrative reform and most recently having a peaceful electoral transfer of executive power. These things have really helped and will continue to help Georgia in the eyes of the US and Europe. But at the same time, it must continue to improve for that narrative to continue.

At the same time, Georgia is also the only strong and fairly stable ally between Russia and Iran and because Armenia and Azerbaijan are officially at war, the only way to move Caspian Oil west. But two things are happening with that. The first is the rise of new gas sources makes Caspian gas much less important. And the other is Iran.There is a possibility of a great change in US policy and of the government of Iran being recognized by the US if all goes well with the nuclear agreement. If that happens the Georgia will in some ways become less important but in others even more important, it would be a giant regional change that Georgia could recognize and benefit from or not notice because it spends so much time thinking about Russia, Europe and the US.