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Congressman Jim Kolbe’s surprise pre-Thanksgiving announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2006 represents a real loss for those of us who work to improve U.S. policies towards developing countries. An eleven-term Republican representing southern Arizona, Kolbe has been a rare and effective voice of reason on foreign aid.
As chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations he helped to make the case for the Bush Administration’s innovative aid program, the Millennium Challenge Account but he was also frank about the broader problems of the U.S.'s highly fragmented and poorly administered aid programs . Congressman Kolbe was also an early and wise proponent of the U.S. incorporating prevention of state collapse into its strategy for dealing with the world's more than 50 weak and failing states (an issue that CGD addressed in our 2004 report, On the Brink: Weak States and US National Security)
I am struck that media reports of Congressman Kolbe’s decision neglect his extensive work on development issues—despite the fact that many in the development community regard him as something of a hero. That’s perhaps symptomatic of the challenges that he surely faced in Congress and in his district in making the case for a sound U.S. development policy. But the media reports do capture some of the personal qualities that made Congressman Kolbe’s work on development so effective. As the Arizona Daily Star noted: