Life is good for U.S. Ambassador Hilda Arellano. With her salary in excess of $200,000 per year (which includes danger and hardship pay - even though she is in no danger and faces no hardships), she enjoys a comfortable life in Kabul. She occasionally travels to relatively safe areas of Afghanistan such as the city of Herat and Province of Bamyan, but never where she is needed, which is in the more desperate, poverty-stricken areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan. In just two provinces (Kandahar and Helmand), the United Nations reports that over one million Afghan children are malnourished to such an extent that they exist on a famine level. None of that matters to the U.S. Embassy because its goal is to project progress and happiness. As dying children are inconsistent with the Embassy’s propaganda, impoverished areas of Afghanistan are kept off of Ambassador Arellano’s press tours.
Hilda M. Arellano is currently the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and a Counselor at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She was the director of the USAID mission in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 and then served in the same capacity in Egypt. When the public hears of billions in U.S. foreign aid being wasted on unnecessary and poorly considered infrastructure projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, those responsible are never publicly named, but Ambassador Arellano is one of them. While she bares responsibility for some of these scandals, such scandals have never harmed her career. The reason is that there is a complete lack of accountability within USAID. As a result, the agency remains unrepentant and impervious to reform, and therefore the scandals continue.
For more information on USAID, Google on-line some of the previous Kabul Press exposes, including, “Building Afghanistan into Ruin,” “USAID Humiliates Aid Recipients” “Afghan Aid Squandered by U.S. Political Insiders,” and “Stunning Alcohol Abuse Revealed at U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.”
In August 2012, Ambassador Arellano took a highly publicized trip to Herat in which she was given a guided tour of the Doost Marble Factory and then she met with province officials. She next undertook a similar “Potempkin village” trip to Bamyan with Ambassador James Cunningham. Then she returned to Kabul for an August 26, 2012 “Mobile Money Executive Seminar”, which Ambassador Arellano promptly pronounced as an “undeniable success.” She also supervises numerous trendy USAID programs including, “The Education and Gender Program.”
This is how USAID operates. The focus is on photo opportunities, fancy luncheons and endless meetings regarding programs with progressive titles, but which accomplish little of substance.
Ambassador Arellano and her boss, USAID Director Rajiv Shah, remain oblivious to the fact that while their actions may temporarily make President Obama’s policies appear to be a success, the overall Afghan effort has been a failure, and more than that a dangerous failure. People are starving in the Afghan countryside while U.S. diplomats party with the wealthy in Kabul. According to United Nations statistics, 275 Afghan children under five years of age die every day from preventable illnesses, especially malnutrition. This statistic was first reported in a 2004 U.N. survey and it has not improved. There has been no progress. One culprit is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “smart power” initiative. This flawed talking point promotes the idea that USAID should focus on dispensing development aid, when what the world more desperately needs is humanitarian assistance, (i.e., food, clean water and medical care).
Historically, USAID development aid usually does nothing more than make the ruling class in target country richer. In Afghanistan, there is unanimous agreement that the billions spent there have not trickled down to ordinary Afghans. It is not a success to improve the banks in Kabul while people go hungry in the countryside.
Part of USAID’s aversion to humanitarian assistance is that dispensing X number of tons of food aid does not support a sexy press release. In addition, dispensing such food aid would require USAID officials to leave their comfortable offices and work in the countryside alongside the poorest and most remote of Afghanistan’s peoples. That is considered unacceptable. Secretary Clinton has repeatedly stated that protecting U.S. diplomats and USAID managers is her top priority (rather than winning the war). Winning the war requires a significant daily U.S. civilian presence in the countryside.
What U.S. diplomats also ignore are the long-term consequences to the United States of this bungled USAID effort. If one million Pashto children are slowly dying in Afghanistan’s south, those children have parents, siblings and relatives who see this happening day by day, while hearing of U.S. boasts of success and progress. They hear of the mansions sprouting up in Kabul and the brothels that cater to NATO and UN officials and their contractors. They hear that the U.S. Embassy has ignored the ban on alcohol that the U.S. military has ordered, and information on drunken parties is well known. This has to spur Taliban recruitment and spur Afghan security and army personnel to turn on the Americans. While U.S. troops are fighting and dying on the battlefield, U.S. diplomats are fueling the conflict.
When Ambassador Arellano traveled to Herat, she praised the new U.S. consulate there. That consulate, and in fact a large percentage of USAID’s personnel, belongs in Kandahar City, with the rest of USAID’s staff perhaps in Khost City. It is in those areas where the war against the Taliban is being lost. USAID personnel need to be in the field supervising projects on a daily basis. They need to also be dispensing food aid. The policy should be that no fancy USAID development projects are funded in any country while any child there is sick with hunger.
USAID officials, such as Ambassador Arellano, may be creating consequences that will far outlast the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. As the Ambassador leaves next year for her new promotion and assignment, those who lost children due to her disdain for (unsexy) humanitarian aid are unlikely to forget what has occurred. Instead of simply pushing recruits to the Taliban, Arellano and others may be pushing them even further, to al-Qaeda. A decade from now the U.S. homeland may pay the price for those diplomats who have dishonorably represented the American people in Afghanistan.