Former USAID Chief Mark Green On Coronavirus, Foreign Aid, Trump's Philosophy : Goats and Soda Mark Green talks to NPR about what it's like leaving during a global health crisis — and what the future may hold for the agency.

Exiting USAID Chief On The Pandemic, Foreign Aid, Trump's Policies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


For nearly three years, Ambassador Mark Green ran the U.S. Agency for International Development. It's been a key agency responding to the coronavirus crisis. Even so, this month, Green left his job as he had been planning to do for a while. He is now serving as executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership. We spoke recently about what the pandemic means for America's role in the world.

MARK GREEN: I think the great lesson that we've seen from the coronavirus outbreak, the pandemic, in some ways, is strikingly similar to the lesson that we learned the hard way not so long after 9/11. And that is that we have to care about what takes place in the far reaches of the world. And I remember thinking to myself that if you would have told me that we would in a remote corner of Afghanistan really see a set of actions that resulted in 3,000 people being killed in New York, I would have said you're crazy. Well, same thing is true here. We have to care about what takes place in Asia, in Africa, because if we don't, sadly, the challenges will come to us.

MARTIN: So you have said that the spread of COVID-19 underscores the importance of investing in foreign aid and global health programs, even as the White House is looking to cut funding to the World Health Organization. Does that concern you?

GREEN: The advantage of the World Health Organization for the U.S. government and for the American people is they're able to work in places that are often difficult for us, in secure settings, places where we don't want to post Americans for a range of reasons. So an effective World Health Organization is important for our interests as much as the interests of other countries and other peoples.

MARTIN: So how do you make sense, then, of President Trump's reluctance to trust international organizations?

GREEN: There is no doubt that President Trump, that the White House, are skeptics of foreign assistance and skeptics of multilateral organizations. And there's nothing wrong with a healthy skepticism. When I was first asked about coming into the Trump administration, I remember meeting with some guy, some president-elect named Donald Trump, and he was asking me about the value of foreign assistance. And I said, you know, look, Mr. President-elect, I believe that if we do this right, we can take on the challenges that you see, that we're an important part of American leadership and American foreign policy. But I think as we look carefully at these investments, we'll see that they're wise. And I think they're an important part of who we are as a people.

MARTIN: President Trump proposed slashing foreign aid by 21% in February of this year. Did that make your job harder?

GREEN: You know, look, I've said at USAID our job is always to spend money as effectively and efficiently as we can. When we receive less funding, we can do less of that. I think to the president's credit that skepticism forces us to justify every expenditure. But at the end of the day, they do provide value, and on both sides of the aisle, they recognize that.

MARTIN: Does an American-first philosophy, do you think that works in a time of a global pandemic?

GREEN: You know, I think back to an op-ed that H.R. McMaster wrote a couple of years ago, former national security adviser. And, you know, as he put out there, America first doesn't mean it shouldn't mean America alone. So, absolutely, the president is right to look after the American people's interests first. All of us believe that. That's important. I also believe that in the time of a pandemic, what happens overseas affects us. So if we make sound investments on building testing and surveillance capacities in other countries, that actually helps make us more secure against a pandemic.

MARTIN: Do you think that America's alliances have been frayed over the last few years?

GREEN: I think they've been tested. I think we've had tough conversations - nothing wrong with that. But I'm one of those who believes in our alliances. I believe that we're much stronger when we work closely together with our friends and allies on matters of mutual concern. To the president's credit, he's asking tough questions about the model of foreign assistance that China and Russia and Iran and Turkey offer, more authoritarian models. But at the end of the day, I believe that our foreign assistance - I'm confident of how it lifts lives and helps make the American people stronger and safer.

MARTIN: Ambassador Mark Green - he is the former administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He is now the executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership. Thank you so much. We really appreciate your time, Ambassador.

GREEN: It's great to be with you.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.