Monday, April 14, 2008

Étonnez-moi, Mr. President!

Yesterday I had the temerity to suggest that the best strategy for the United States' "War on Terror" would be grounded in major contributions to solving the global food crisis. Much to my surprise, the White House seems to appreciate this kind of strategic thinking, although, as continues to be the case more often than not, I had to find out about it through a report on Al Jazeera English:

George Bush, the US president, has authorised the release of $200m in emergency food aid in an attempt to alleviate the world's growing food crisis, the White House says.

The funds will be made available through the US Agency for International Development, the White House said in a statement on Monday.

Let us just hope that this is the beginning of an ongoing story, rather than the assumption that a one-shot solution will repair all damage. At the very least enquiring minds need to know what, if any, strings are attached when the Agency for International Development starts dispensing these funds. For that matter we need to know if they are dispensing them, since having the budget and spending it are two different matters. There is also the practical question of what will be achieved with $200 million, particularly now that Joseph Stigliz and Linda Blimes have us thinking in terms of trillion-dollar budgets for waging war.

However, my own modest proposal had more to do with solving the food crisis through the institutions of capitalism. In that respect it is worth noting, as Al Jazeera did, that the White House seems to have been motivated by the World Bank:

The US pledge also comes a day after the World Bank said it had created a "new plan" to help those affected by the crisis and, alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF), urged wealthy nations to contribute $500m towards easing the problem.

Al Jazeera also seems to have confirmed that, at least as far as the World Bank is concerned, this is a beginning act, rather than a one-shot:

The World Bank's first response to the crisis has been a $10m grant for feeding programmes in Haiti, where food riots have just forced the removal of the country's prime minister.

In addition to $500m appeal, the World Bank also called on oil-exporting countries to invest more of their windfall earnings in Africa.

Shifting just one per cent of the assets held by those countries' sovereign investment funds could put $30bn towards African development.

The World Bank said there are plans to nearly double its lending for agriculture in Africa to $800m.

This also seems to confirm that, for both short-term and long-term thinking, the World Bank is seriously talking about "real money," as they say.

Speaking of reality, we should also recognize that, while things may start moving in the right direction, significant change is not going to happen overnight. The World Bank's decision to start in Haiti is probably a good example of triage thinking, since Haiti is the first of the crisis countries to experience a governmental breakdown. Presumably the World Bank is now harnessing its team of analysts to try to administer the next shot of funds before a government collapses. Now, are we going to start reading reports like this from any other media sources?

Also, without hoping for too much, what would it do for prevailing attitudes in the Middle East if Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were to use her "bully pulpit" at the Doha annual democracy forum (where things could well be far more substantive than they were at the World Economic Forum in Davos) to announce Israel's contribution to solving the food crisis, say, by applying some of their agricultural resources to alleviate the food riots in Egypt?

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