- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

Andrew Natsios, President Bush's administrator for the Agency for International Development, is no stranger to controversy.
After less than a month on the job, he told the Boston Globe that the United States would not provide assistance to foreign countries for AIDS treatment. Democrats in Congress, already wary of what they considered the new administration's paltry contribution to an international AIDS trust fund, offered harsh rebukes for the comment.
Mr. Natsios also is not afraid to take on his own party. During the peak of the North Korean famine in 1997, he organized a lobbying campaign with religious activists and nongovernmental organizations to send food aid to North Korea, despite skepticism from Republican hawks leery of providing any assistance to Pyongyang.
To this day, Mr. Natsios believes that the Clinton administration's policy of conditioning food aid to North Korea on its participation in missile negotiations cost lives there.
Mr. Natsios served under President George Bush as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 1989 to 1991, then as assistant administrator for the Bureau of Food and Humanitarian Assistance from 1991 to 1993.
He has worked with some of the most authoritarian governments on the planet in the name of humanitarian relief. In one of his first initiatives in his current post, he met with Col. John Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and separately in Nairobi with Sudan's ambassador to Kenya, Farouq Ali Mohammed Badr, a former Sudanese general.
The purpose of the meeting was to coordinate U.S. food shipments to Sudan — the first time since the first Bush administration that Washington would send food to people in the government-controlled part of that country.
When he dispatched a team to Taliban-held Afghanistan to assess and alleviate that country's drought, he said, he gave one instruction: "End the famine."
Mr. Natsios spoke with UPI on June 15 about his vision for USAID under the present administration.

Question: You have said we are not going to use humanitarian aid for political reasons. Can you expand on this?
Answer: The contestants in conflicts always use humanitarian aid for their purposes. Our job is to try to insulate it as much as possible. We can't prevent them all the time. All we can do is insulate them in our system.
Q: In terms of the policy, what are the implications of this? That's a fairly bold statement.
A: Yes it is. We did follow it though … The president gave a speech, it is an interesting story.
A couple of times during the New Hampshire primary, I went up and knocked on doors for the campaign. They passed out a piece of paper from the Bush campaign that listed the president's positions and it said, "No use of food aid for political purposes or diplomatic purposes."
And I said: "What is this?" I asked one of his campaign people, "Who wrote this?" They said, "This is from order of the candidate, from the [Texas] governor himself."
I ran and got the speech, and he actually gave a speech on this in the Midwest.
The moral argument is the ethical argument, which is pre-eminent. When people's lives are at stake on such a massive scale, you can't start saying, "We will not provide assistance or move food around based on political considerations."
I got that instruction from [Secretary of State James A. Baker] a month after I took my job [in the first Bush administration]. And I never knew where it came from other than a little piece of paper.
And it came actually from the president. The reason is that Mrs. [Barbara] Bush and the president had gone to feeding camps in central Sudan during the Sahel drought. There was a terrible drought all over Sahel. I didn't know this until a month after we left office.
I went to see Phil Johnston, who used to run CARE and was then running the U.N. humanitarian relief effort in Somalia. This was just a week after we sent the troops there, early December 1992. I sat down and I said, "Mr. President, I would like you to meet," and he stopped me and said, "I know Mr. Johnston."
I asked, "How do you know him." He said, "We met in 1984 in a feeding camp in Sudan." Phil Johnston said, "How did you remember that?" And the president said, "We will never forget it."
Apparently a lot of people died and Mrs. Bush was horrified. Ever since that date, they had become really invested in the issue of humanitarian assistance and neutrality. And so I had a friend in the Oval Office for four years and I never realized it.
My sense is from the [current] president's speech, and I don't know this for sure, that there have been some family discussions about this.
Q: Where else will we see down the road this approach of neutrality?
A: I'll tell you, a very good example is Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not exactly our ideological friend. [Suspected terrorist mastermind Osama] bin Laden is there. The Taliban are not our best friends in the world.
We have now committed 100,000 tons of food there; it will be up to 197,000 tons shortly. I have just dispatched a disaster-assistance response team, which means we are ratcheting up the level of the intensity of our efforts across that country.
Q: Isn't it difficult when the Taliban do not allow women to work in World Food Program bakeries, for example. How do you work with governments that present political barriers to distributing food in a neutral way?
A: There are serious political problems. I don't want to by these principles suggest to you I don't see any problems, because I had to deal with them for 12 years. They exist, they are very serious.
But … our pre-eminent principle in all these emergencies is saving the largest number of lives with the resources in our command. In fact that's all that we ask, that's the instruction I've given to everybody. So we have to subordinate our politics to the principles so we don't kill people by inaction or paralysis.
Does that mean, for example, in the Goma camps, after the genocide in Rwanda — one of the most horrific events I have ever seen? We were providing food for those camps and in those camps, there were men who committed genocide. Tens of thousands.
The Rwandan [Hutu] military was in there, the police were in there, the leaders of the gendarmes — the police force — were there, and they were stealing food from those camps. And they were selling it on the markets, and they were buying more guns with it.
Actually there were internal U.N. reports, and I was horrified. We moved — when I say we, I mean World Vision, the NGO I worked for. We were running one of those camps. I said this is completely unacceptable. Not because of politics: Food is not to be used to buy guns with. And if that's what's happening then we're going to shut this down.
I didn't make the decision — it was the World Vision senior structure — but four or five of us led the fight. It didn't take very long to make the decision.
The principle does not mean you provide assistance no matter what the consequences. If the consequences are more people dying and more violence, I think you have to reconsider it.
Q: Can we talk about rogue states?
Rogue states tend to starve segments of their population. How do you distribute aid in a place like Iraq?
A: I have not engaged with Iraq. We do not have a program there right now, and I have not looked at any of the cables.
I can tell you what we did after the Gulf war — and I was in the war, I was a military officer. I was a major.
We were just behind the combat forces in Kuwait City, we ran the city after the liberation. When I came back home, I went in and I said, "There are serious problems. The economy is wrecked now and they bankrupted the economy."
I went to the State Department and said, "I am going to start a large-scale relief effort. Do you have any objections?" They said, "No, as a matter of fact, we support [it]."
I called in the most credible of the NGOs that had some experience and had some basis for working there — Catholic Relief Services. They had experience there, they knew something about Iraq. I called the leadership and said, "If one bag of our food or medical supplies appears in the marketplace, guess whose name is going to be on the front page … Your name, CRS. and my name, AID. And people will be outraged if you let Saddam Hussein, not one of the great figures of the world, divert our resources.
They had more monitors, they had more accountability systems, than we've ever seen, and nothing disappeared. But the harassment against CRS was so intense, and this was a $5 million grant — that's a big grant — [that] after the first 18 months, they came back and they said, "we don't want to do it anymore."
And I asked why. They said: "Do you have any idea what the harassment and aggression against our people there is? The secret police were on us constantly and they were afraid some of their people would have been killed."
So CRS never normally does that — I have never seen them withdraw — but the abuses were so bad against that that they did leave.
I'm not trying to embarrass CRS.
Q: The principal Iraqi rebel group supported by the United States — the Iraqi National Congress — wants to distribute humanitarian food inside Iraq. They have submitted proposals for this, and they are awaiting a response. What do you think?
A: I've never heard this.
As a general proposition, we always look at the capacity of the groups we give assistance to. We don't give food to [just] anybody. It has nothing to do with politics: If they don't have a track record with us of knowing how to account for food or humanitarian assistance, generally, we don't do this. Because you are inviting trouble for yourselves and for them.
Q: One rogue state where we give aid to is North Korea. You have some experience there. Can you talk about the new administration's policy?
A: I don't want to be unfair to the last administration, some of the people running it were friends of mine who I admire. The humanitarian officers were under constraint from the National Security Council and the White House.
Q: Would you say the White House exacerbated the famine in North Korea?
A: No question: It's pretty explicit in my forthcoming book.
What happened, basically, is that senior officials in the administration told us in January [1997] in a meeting … "We're going to use food as a carrot and stick. If they negotiate, they get the food, and if they don't negotiate, they don't."
And while I did not have indisputable evidence at that time that there was a famine going on, I suspected there was.
I spent two years after that finding the evidence to prove there was, as well.
But what happened during the meeting is, I lost my temper, and we had an unpleasant scene, and then … I had a press conference … where I accused the administration, on the day Madeleine Albright was being sworn in as secretary of state.
I was told she wasn't too happy about it.
But … it's pretty clear — while they denied for six months — … they weren't sending any aid, and that was the peak of the famine. The peak of the famine was from the spring of '96 to the summer of '97.
Q: You recently had meetings with Sudanese and Sudanese rebel leaders in Kenya to discuss new U.S. aid programs in Sudan. How did it go? Were you able to put the principles into practice? Were you able to get assurances that your people would not be harassed?
A: Everybody always tells you there will not be any harassment. I've never heard anybody tell me there is going to be any trouble.
The U.N. has been negotiating this. In the case of both [the government and the rebels], I discussed the problems we've had with both sides, and said it was not helpful to have our mutual space invaded for whatever reason.
We expect them to stay out of our headquarters areas, our camps. [I told them] that this was going to the neutral distribution of food aid — based on need, not based on politics. I said it was alarming to us that the famine appears to be spreading across the provinces.
Q: You are a conservative. Many of your fellow conservatives believe in the idea of regime change in certain circumstances. Explain to me how your philosophy on humanitarian aid will help or hinder other foreign policy goals of the Bush administration, particularly with some of the worst kinds of regimes.
A: I deal with this question in my upcoming book. If the food aid program in North Korea had kept that regime in power, is it morally defensible? The question always has to be what is the effect of food aid.
I interviewed refugees along the border in China on the famine. We interviewed 1,600 people, so our conclusions are not just anecdotal, they are fairly systematic.
This is an anecdotal story: In Cho'jing, which is the northernmost port on the east coast, which is an area of triage, they triaged the entire eastern part of the country. No food went there for two-and-a-half years, because they were politically unimportant.
An American Navy ship was going in — the first ship in Cho'jing in two-and-a-half years. American bags written in Korean, "Gift of the American people," with an American flag on the ship.
The North Koreans said, "You have to take the flag down. You can't have the flag on the ship."
A North Korean actually said: "You don't actually think they are going to let a ship go into a place under these circumstances with an American flag on it. What do you think the message is to the population?"
Well, I interviewed three logistics guys who were in the city. They took the flag down …
I asked: "Did everybody know where that [food aid] came from?" He said everybody knew. One, it's on the bags. But, two, they all knew it — and they knew their own government starved them to death and the Americans were saving them.
I can't think of anything more insidious to a dictatorship then the notion that the United States government — which is supposed to be their enemies — are feeding them.
I actually had a refugee say that: "We have been taught our entire lives that the Americans and South Koreans are our enemies. And after what I've seen, what I've been through" — his entire family had died in the famine — "now I know I who our real enemies are. And our friends are the Americans."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide