Andrew Natsios, the controversial former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the George W. Bush administration, is a senior fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute and a faculty member at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service. Natsios is also a former vice president of the Christian aid group World Vision, a retired U.S. Army Reserves officer, and a former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Natsios was also one of several former George W. Bush officials and neoconservative figures to join the Mitt Romney campaign as advisers on national security and foreign policy issues. Fellow advisers included Michael Chertoff, Robert Kagan, John Lehman, Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, and Dan Senor, among others.
Natsios' name was included in an "Open Letter to President Obama Regarding 'Stability,'" a broadside against the president's foreign policy published at National Review Online and signed by Romney's foreign policy team. Riffing on Obama's off-the-record remarks to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in March 2012 that Obama would have "more flexibility" after the 2012 election, the letter wondered whether such flexibility would entail "more efforts to placate Russia by weakening the missile defense systems that protect us and our allies," the revival of a "'no preconditions' engagement policy with the Iranian regime," or efforts "to undermine Israel further," among other such neoconservative-leaning talking points. "The American people deserve full and frank answers to these questions," the letter concluded, "or at least the same level of candor you have offered to Russia's leaders."
In contrast to Romney, who suggested during the 2012 campaign that foreign aid for humanitarian assistance should be eliminated, Natsios has argued for a continued regimen of U.S. assistance to countries deemed important to U.S. interests. "Policymakers in Washington must be able to use aid resources to address global and national problems which affect America's vital interests," he wrote in October 2011 for U.S. News & World Report Online. "There is simply no substitute for a robust U.S. government aid program: cutting these programs disproportionately will put our national security at risk and undermine America's global leadership at a moment it is most needed."
USAID Track Record
Natsios served in two posts during the George W. Bush administration, first as head of USIAD (2001-2006) then as the U.S. envoy to Sudan (2006-2007). According to his Hudson Institute bio, while at USAID, Natsios "managed the agency's reconstruction programs in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan, which totaled more than $14 billion over four years. … Mr. Natsios served previously at USAID, first as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 1989 to 1991 and then as assistant administrator for the Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance (now the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance) from 1991 to January 1993."
During his tenure as head of USAID, observers argued that Natsios endeavored to politicize the work of non-governmental organizations receiving U.S. funds for their programs in countries like Afghanistan. In a widely noted and criticized speech in May 2003, during an NGO conference organized by an umbrella group called InterAction, Natsios threatened to cut off USAID funding to groups that did not demonstrate measurable "results," presumably as defined by U.S. political priorities. He underscored the point by stating, "I am giving you some blunt analysis. Why? Because the work we do is now perceived to affect the national survival of the U.S."
Observers in the humanitarian relief community responded with alarm to Natsios's speech, arguing that his with-us-or-against-us narrative threatened the long-standing neutrality of NGOs, which enables them to pursue their work effectively and safely. Wrote one commentator: "Natsios comes from an NGO background himself, and was known not to mince words with the US government. Nonetheless, more seems afoot than just idle talk. The change in tone reflected in Natsios' speech appears deliberate and meaningful—as though USAID is at once both remonstrating with and appealing to NGOs to get on board lest both they and USAID lose out to the forces of political change."
The veiled threat to NGO work was compounded when, shortly after Natsios's 2003 speech at the InterAction forum, the rightist Federal Society and neoconservative American Enterprise Institute launched a joint project titled NGO Watch (later renamed Global Governance Watch). Discussing the new group and its relationship to Natsios's oversight of USAID, a contributor to Humanitarian Exchange Magazine wrote: "The website project, kicked off by a conference entitled 'NGOs: The Growing Power of an Unelected Few,' contends that the largely left-wing NGO sector wields undue influence over U.S. foreign policy and U.S. corporations. The venture has prompted a more than usual degree of concern among humanitarian practitioners, not least because several senior administration officials come from the two think-tanks involved. … [S]ome in the U.S. NGO community suspect that the NGO Watch project was designed as a tool for the administration to bully non-compliant NGOs, so that those who insist on openly criticizing the U.S. government's actions in Iraq and elsewhere will be held up for public lambasting on the site."
Also while head of USAID, Natsios controversially opposed the U.S. distribution of AIDS drugs in Africa because, he argued, people can't follow basic doctor's instructions, in part because they "don't know what Western time is. Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch their entire lives."
Natsios has a long track record working and writing on Sudan, both in and out of government. During his tenure as the Bush administration's special envoy to Sudan (September 2006 to December 2007), Natsios was heavily criticized by NGOs for declaring that the Sudanese government's actions in Darfur did not constitute "genocide." Responding to this claim, Nii Akuetteh, executive director of Africa Action, said: "Natsios' declaration that genocide is no longer occurring in Darfur denies the reality on the ground and conflicts with numerous statements from the White House and State Department over the past two years. This is more than a semantic change. Natsios' claim represents a calculated attempt to re-characterize the crisis, undermine its urgency, and obviate the need for new U.S. action to address."
Akuetteh's argument echoed earlier criticism by observers that the Bush administration selectively applied its militarist defense of human rights
in a way that prioritized those targets in the "war and terror" that reflected the concerns of neoconservative ideologues in the administration (see, for instance, Michael Flynn and Jim Lobe, "Selective Service," Right Web, July 7, 2003).
Since leaving the administration, Natsios has frequently spoken out about U.S. policy on Sudan. Criticizing the Obama administration for the pace of its response to worsening relations between North and South Sudan, Natsios penned a May 2012 op-ed for the Washington Post calling for the United States to send arms to South Sudan. "Just as we have provided weapons to support Israel but never put our own troops at risk, we can help bring peace to this region," he wrote. "We need only make sure that, for the North, attacking the South is a little bit harder than shooting fish in a barrel. … The Obama administration must arm the South Sudanese with antiaircraft weapons to create a stalemate and get the North back to the negotiating table."
Previously, in a December 2010 interview with Public Radio International, Natsios said the Obama administration was taking "the right approach in a broad sense" as the South prepared for a referendum on independence from the North. He also disputed claims by fellow guest Nicholas Kristof that the South was riven by internal violence and human rights abuses. "According to donor governments that have consulates there," Natsios claimed, "there is almost no violence going on right now because the one thing the south is completely united around is that they want to be done with Islam, the Islamists from Khartoum and done with the Arabs. I'm just telling you what they think."
In 2012, Natsios published the book Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press). "Focusing on the events of the last 25 years, Natsios sheds light on the origins of the conflict between northern and southern Sudan and the complicated politics of this volatile nation," says a blurb for the book on the Hudson Institute's website. "He gives readers a first-hand view of Sudan's past as well as an honest appraisal of its future. … Informative and accessible, this book introduces readers to the most central issues facing Sudan as it stands on the brink of historic change." One Amazon reviewer, however, derided the book as "Cliff Notes on Sudan for neoconservatives," an oversimplified primer bent on prioritizing "the dismemberment and transformation of Sudan into a series of American client states."
According to his Hudson bio, "From April 2000 to March 2001, Mr. Natsios served as the CEO of Boston's 'Big Dig,' the largest construction project in American history, while he was Chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. He assumed leadership of the project after $2.4 billion in undisclosed cost overruns were discovered. Before that, he served at the chief financial and administrative officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as Secretary for Administration and Finance from March 1999 to April 2000. From 1993 to 1998, Mr. Natsios was vice president of World Vision U.S., the largest faith-based non-governmental organization in the world with programs in 103 countries. From 1987 to 1989, he was executive director of the Northeast Public Power Association in Milford, Massachusetts. Mr. Natsios served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1975 to 1987 and was named legislator of the year by the Massachusetts Municipal Association (1978), the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (1986), and Citizens for Limited Taxation (1986). He also was chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee for seven years. After serving 23 years in the U.S. Army Reserves as a civil affairs officer, Mr. Natsios retired in 1995 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is a veteran of the Gulf War. Mr. Natsios has served on the faculty of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University since 2006."