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The Barnacles of

Foreign Assistance

Memoirs of an Agent for Change in International Development: My Flight Path into the 21st Century

Ludwig Rudel, Arlington Hall Press,

2014, $17.95, softcover, 340 pages.

Reviewed By Maria C. Livingston

In a year when the United Nations and its

member states are trying to come to agree-

ment on a post-2015 development agenda

(as a sequel to the U.N. MillenniumDevel-

opment Goals, which are due to sunset

at the end of this year), Ludwig Rudel’s

historical narrative,

Memoirs of an Agent

for Change in International Development


provides much food for thought.

Rudel, whose family fled the Holocaust

during WorldWar II, spent nearly 25 years

as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S.

Agency for International Development,

joining in 1954 when the aid organization

was known as the International Coopera-

tion Agency. His career took him to such

far-flung posts as Iran, Turkey, India,

Pakistan and Egypt.

Writing for his heirs and development

professionals alike, Rudel goes back and

forth between describing the political

and economic events that determined his

career path and sharing the intimate and

sometimes messy details of his life choices.

A son and brother first, Rudel became

a husband and father along the way, all

while donning his faithful public servant’s

hat as he evaluated technical assistance

projects, designed export promotion

schemes and helpedmanage PL480 grain

import programs.

Fromdeveloping a lifelong friendship

with a contact in the TurkishMinistry of

Commerce to dealing with an ailing parent

from 8,000 miles away, and frombeing

mistaken for a spy to seeking one’s place

in expat communities through

amateur theater and flight

school, Rudel’s memoirs are the

substance of real life. Any Foreign

Service reader will no doubt relate

to and appreciate his commentary

on the quirks and perks of the

Foreign Service experience.

The former economic-assis-

tance hand does not pull any

punches, either. With the security of more

than 30 years between his active-duty

days and today, Rudel is particularly vocal

in his view that the CIA and BritishMI6

were not behind the 1953 ouster of Iranian

Prime Minister MohammadMosaddegh:

“The shah had absolute control and power

in Iran. He appointedMosaddegh to the

position of prime minister in 1951. He

then dismissed him in 1953 and remained

in power. How can that be described as a


The assertion will certainly ring hollow

for many readers—not tomention that it

flies in the face of volumes of now-declas-

sified government documents andmem-

oirs of individuals involved in the coup.

But it is not in this type of second-guessing

that the book’s merit lies.

It is instead Rudel’s account of one

especially painful episode—the crush of

betrayal when cuts to USAID budgets led

to his firing shortly before he was set to

retire—that brings the book’s most useful

contribution to the dialogue on foreign

assistance into focus.

Prompted by the euphoria that per-

vaded the post–WorldWar II approach to

reconstruction in war-scarred Europe, the

author jumped on the economic assis-

tance bandwagon at a time when the ICA’s

mandate was viewed as temporary and

when there was a genuine expectation that

the agency would work itself out of a job

within 10 short years.

Rudel waxes nostalgic for the days

when U.S. benevolence was

broadly supported at home

and welcomed by foreign

countries and their citizenry.

Yet, as his time in the Service

wore on, this excitement and

expectation would succumb

to two unanticipated trends.

First, developing coun-

tries would come to view

foreign aid as an entitlement, rather than a

fleeting act of goodwill to facilitate transi-

tion to political and economic indepen-

dence. Second, untethered public support

among Americans and ipso facto congres-

sional funding for foreign assistance would

plummet as discontent over the Vietnam

War increased.

Rudel likens the politicization of foreign

aid to affixing “barnacles” to USAID’s

once-glistening ship.

By the 1970s, a more seasoned Rudel

finds himself working the United Nations

“conference circuit.” In a decidedly cyni-

cal turn, the author accuses Group of 77

countries of manipulating the multilateral

“development game” to guilt wealthy

countries into ever-increasing “resource


According to Rudel, the Millennium

Development Goals—though worthy—are

the manifestation of this trend in the new

millennium. The reader may be disap-

pointed with his completely unviable

solution to the problem.

The book includes a chapter on

Rudel’s moonlighting as a housing

developer in rural Pennsylvania. He

draws lessons from his time with USAID

to navigate the oft-bewildering red tape

all through the course of this 30-year

business venture. Barely earning enough

to break even, Rudel weighs in favor of

effective regulation, which he believes is

necessary to offset the rise of megabanks

and oligopolies that prey on consumers