Time for the Senate to confirm Gayle Smith

The United States has a long history of responding to humanitarian disasters and challenging global problems with purpose and compassion. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is the organization best equipped to address complex humanitarian issues such as the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, recovery and rebuilding efforts following a devastating earthquake in Nepal, and conflict and displacement in central and East Africa. To address these and other global problems most effectively, USAID needs a strong and experienced leader. President Obama nominated such a leader on April 30, when he asked development and national security expert Gayle Smith to lead USAID.

Unfortunately, Smith’s nomination remains on hold. On July 16, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) issued a letter stating his intention to block key nominees unless Obama stopped the United Nations Security Council from taking action on the Iran nuclear deal before Congress had a chance to do so. Last week, Senate Democrats blocked a final procedural effort to derail the resolution, which took effect on Friday. At this point, analysts agree that the deal is done.

{mosads}In stark contrast, the refugee crisis affecting the Middle East and Europe is far from over. Turkey alone has nearly 2 million Syrian refugees and few resources to address this staggering problem. Earlier this month, the photo of three-year old Aylan Kurdi captured global attention and may serve as the moment where political leaders and concerned citizens throughout the world unite to demand an end to this disaster. The U.S. can help, as it has long been a leader in humanitarian assistance and refugee aid. The ability of the U.S. to contribute to addressing this problem, however, is constrained by the lack of top-level leadership at USAID.

Cruz recently stated that the U.S. must do more regarding the ongoing refugee crisis. Indeed, he stated that this issue “demands our urgent attention” and cited the U.S. history of responding to humanitarian disasters, noting that this example “should be no exception.” Although there are different explanations for the causes of this crisis as well as competing policy ideas for how best to address it, one thing is certain: without a strong and experienced leader at USAID, the U.S. cannot contribute to addressing this issue in its most effective and meaningful way.

U.S. leaders and policymakers must turn their attention to the refugee crisis now confronting the Middle East and Europe. This includes confirming Smith and allowing her to lead USAID. Hopefully Cruz will allow the Senate to move forward with Smith’s nomination.

Prendergast is the founding director of the Enough Project and the co-founder of The Sentry, a new investigative initiative to counter the financing of Africa’s deadliest wars. He was formerly a director of African Affairs at the National Security Council.

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