One reform to fix them all. What could be more ideal than this? Unfortunately, such a dream will forever lie beyond the reach of policymakers. The potential reality of the matter is that each problem is the unique culmination of various challenges and difficulties, which in turn requires an equally unique solution for true resolution.
In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we see that this is particularly evident in the case of South Africa towards the end of the twentieth century, an area that Robert S. Brent worked on very closely during the early stages of his career with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Even on the matter of apartheid, Brent witnessed the dissonances of domestic opinions tear Assistant Secretary Chester Crocker apart as his policy of constructivist engagement was repeatedly challenged on both sides of the political spectrum.
On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, were the perceptions of policy when it came to subsequent economic reform. Indeed, although Brent spent a significant amount of time reflecting on the applicability of the East Asian model of economic reform, the closest that USAID ever got was encouraging private sector development; even though such policy worked well in Korea, Taiwan, and Japan before, there was resistance from South Africa. Not only because the host country officials did not want to follow such a route, but also—as Brent describes in detail—the prerequisite conditions did not necessarily match such an approach well enough to be truly effective. At one point, Brent finds himself asking, “What is the role of foreign aid?” But based on his experiences, perhaps we should be asking ourselves a different question: “Does our infrastructure have ample flexibility to successfully address any dilemma?”
Prior to joining USAID in 1986, Brent served in the U.S. Navy for six years. He has additionally worked in Egypt as a USAID Human Resources Associate Mission Director, as well as in the United States as the Director of the Center for Development Information and Evaluation at USAID. Following his retirement from the organization, Brent has taken up a position as a Professor at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. teaching Chinese Economics.