Foreign Policy Blogs

Linking Foreign Policy and Development Goals in Egypt

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations has released an excellent report on “Political Instability in Egypt,” through the Center for Preventive Action. 


The report begins by noting US policymakers’ bias toward assuming that Egypt “will muddle through its myriad challenges and endure indefinitely.”  As anyone who has ever tried to study revolutions knows, it is devilishly difficult to predict if and when a state might become unstable enough to have a complete upheaval.  The number of cases of revolutions is so small that drawing conclusions and applying them in any useful way is nearly impossible. Many regimes demonstrate the characteristics that make them likely to come tumbling down but few reach the tipping point. So, what is a policymaker to do?  To assume stability and be wrong dooms one to permanent ignominy; people still debate “who lost Iran?”  But to boldly predict downfall and then have nothing happen can turn any Cassandra into the Boy Who Cried Wolf. But what is compelling about Cook’s report is that he links specific policies with specific possible outcomes – and also gives policymakers clear indicators of what to look for as warning signs of trouble in Egypt and what to do to manage crises should they develop. In addition, Cook points out an important decision that must be clearly made by the US: does the US seek to maintain the status quo in Egypt or does it seek to promote democratic change?  The US has sent mixed signals over the last few years and its policies could well be seen as being at crossed purposes by supporting the status quo with military aid and promoting change with USAID programs.  The US can’t have it both ways.  Cook recommends quietly promoting positive change in Egypt.  That makes a great deal of sense if we believe that that status quo cannot be maintained (or that the status quo is not in the US interest, even if it can be maintained).  Then the key is to decide how best to promote change. What programs achieve what results, and how are they in US interests? Do US democracy and governance programs in the Arab world really produce positive change? If so, by what measure – and who is doing the measuring? It is often contractors supported by USAID who are both implementing programs and measuring their results. And those contractors are often not at all a part of foreign policy debates or calculations.  Without an understanding of how these programs operate on the ground the foreign policy considerations are debated in an atmosphere of wishful thinking. Cook’s report makes a good case to link development and foreign policy goals in a way that is clear and consistent. Making sure foreign policy and development professionals work together should be a priority for the Obama administration (and the QDDR is a good step in that direction). 



James Ketterer

James Ketterer is Dean of International Studies at Bard College and Director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program. He previously served as Egypt Country Director for AMIDEAST, based in Cairo and before that as Vice Chancellor for Policy & Planning and Deputy Provost at the State University of New York (SUNY). In 2007-2008 he served on the staff of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education. He previously served as Director of the SUNY Center for International Development.

Ketterer has extensive experience in technical assistance for democratization projects, international education, legislative development, elections, and policy analysis – with a focus on Africa and the Middle East. He has won and overseen projects funded by USAID, the Department for International Development (UK), the World Bank and the US State Department. He served on the National Security Council staff at the White House, as a policy analyst at the New York State Senate, a project officer with the Center for Legislative Development at the University at Albany, and as an international election specialist for the United Nations, the African-American Institute, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has also held teaching positions in international politics at the New School for Social Research, Bard College, State University of New York at New Paltz, the University at Albany, Russell Sage College, and the College of Saint Rose.

Ketterer has lectured and written extensively on various issues for publications including the Washington Post, Middle East Report, the Washington Times, the Albany Times Union, and the Journal of Legislative Studies. He was a Boren National Security Educational Program Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and in Morocco, an International Graduate Rotary Scholar at the Bourguiba School of Languages in Tunisia, and studied Arabic at the King Fahd Advanced School of Translation in Morocco. He received his education at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and Fordham University.

Areas of focus: Public Diplomacy; Middle East; Africa; US Foreign Policy

Contributor to: Global Engagement