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In case you missed it amidst World Cup fever and G-20 protests, President Obama released “A New Approach to Advancing Development” Friday at the Muskoka G-8 Summit. The announcement is good news for three reasons:

  1. 1. President Obama is (finally!) using his bully pulpit for global development. President Obama was elected having promised to elevate global development, but has said relatively little about it since. His national security strategy, released last month, reinforces development as a moral, strategic and economic imperative for the United States. But Friday’s press release puts a little more meat on the bones of a U.S. development strategy that is intended to be more selective; leverage other public and private donors; support well-governed countries; better use the multilaterals; and drive policy with rigorous monitoring, evaluation, and analysis.
  2. It tees up a new global development policy directive. The announcement recognizes the presidential study directive (PSD) on U.S. global development policy launched by the president in September 2009. And the language looks an awful lot like the leaked PSD. Despite the delays, President Obama’s G-8 announcement promises a new policy directive will be issued “in the near future.” This puts to rest any fears that the review would not be turned into policy. It doesn’t mean implementing the policy directive will be easy, but it does mean we will see something concrete, and I hope sooner rather than later.
  3. U.S. development strategy is about more than the MDGs. The announcement comes in the run-up to the September UN Millennium Development Goal summit and suggests that the U.S. development strategy is about more than the MDGs, which is a good thing. (My colleague Todd Moss provides some more on MDG critiques and next steps.)

So, three cheers to the administration for getting the development policy ball rolling again. But of course, the real work is putting the policy directive into practice, and we can anticipate some struggles. First, tailoring U.S. development policy to “select countries, regions and sectors” is a much-needed focus, but will require overcoming entrenched commitments to other countries, regions and sectors. Second, the new “integrated” approach to development, diplomacy and defense gets tricky when it comes to budgeting, division of labor, and knowing who is in charge of what. Put these two together and you get another interesting issue: development may require more selectivity, but Secretary Clinton who is currently in charge of these integrated diplomatic and development tools says “we have to be present everywhere.” And on top of all that, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad slashed the FY11 international affairs budget by $4 billion which, if approved, would likely maintain funding for “frontline states” like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan but cut other diplomatic and development programs and make it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to fully fund the administration’s new Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives.

So there are sand traps ahead. But President Obama’s G-8 announcement tees up some significant development policy reforms. Let’s hope his administration has the momentum and support to drive them down the fairway.