WASHINGTON (Jan. 28)
Before Warren Christopher left his post as secretary of state, he issued a challenge to the American Jewish community: Support President Clinton’s quest to increase U.S. foreign aid. The call to action came at a Jan. 13 luncheon with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations held to honor America’s former top diplomat.
“You are all aware of the dilemmas involved when a shrinking budget forces us to conduct a kind of diplomatic triage,” Christopher said in his typical formal style. “That is why I ask you to continue your broad support for the resources we need to advance America’s interests and uphold America’s ideals.”
U.S. officials regularly ask the Jewish community to support foreign aid. But this year, Clinton has made increasing foreign aid a priority, and Jewish groups are lining up to support his call.
When Clinton delivers his fiscal year 1998 budget to Congress next week, he will ask Congress for at least $1 billion more funding for America’s diplomacy, according to White House sources.
This year, the United States will spend an estimated $18.3 billion on international affairs, including more than $12 billion on foreign aid.
The increase would include more for the foreign aid budget as well as increased spending for U.S. missions, consulates and embassies.
Even before she was confirmed, Madeleine Albright, the new secretary of state, assumed the mantle of pushing for increased foreign spending.
America cannot conduct its foreign policy “on the cheap,” she repeatedly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Supporting foreign aid is nothing new for the Jewish community.
Foreign aid has remained at the top of the Jewish legislative agenda since the 1978 Camp David accords, which led to the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and launched billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt.
Since the mid-1980s, Israel has received more than $3 billion a year in U.S. cash assistance. Israel receives $1.8 billion in military assistance, $1.2 billion in economic assistance and millions more to assist the resettlement of refugees from the former Soviet Union.
The Jewish state has also received American guarantees on $10 billion in loans to aid in the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
In addition to their particular concern for maintaining aid to Israel, Jewish activists have been strong advocates of aid to Israel’s peace partners – Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians.
Jewish groups look beyond the Middle East as well, with a strong internationalist approach and concern for assistance elsewhere in the world.
Overall, foreign aid has sustained a series of actual dollar-for-dollar cuts as well as a decrease in value as inflation has continued to increase.
Foreign affairs spending peaked in 1993 at $21.1 billion.
Since those cuts, aid to the Middle East accounts for half the total foreign aid budget, Christopher told the Conference of Presidents.
“These funds advance a vital U.S. interest and must be fully preserved,” he said. “But our aid to Israel, Egypt and Jordan will inevitably come under pressure, perhaps irresistible pressure, if other assistance programs continue to be decimated and if this imbalance grows.”
With this in mind, Jewish groups have once again joined forces with other foreign aid advocates in a coalition to support U.S. aid.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee will lead the lobbying effort for the foreign aid bill.
“If foreign aid is to be able to withstand budget-cutting pressures, a constellation of the many beneficiaries will have to be engaged in educating Americans and lobbying Congress for the highest possible allocation to this important program,” said an AIPAC official.
Although foreign spending remains unpopular among many Americans, the Jewish community is not the only voice supporting increased spending.
A task force from the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations recently released a report that also calls for an additional $1 billion in spending on foreign assistance.
“The American people do not want to swap a budget deficit for a security deficit,” said the report of the task force, which was led by former Congressmen Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) and Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.).
More than 80 participants endorsed the report, including former Cabinet officials Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Haig, George Shultz, Brent Scowcroft and Cyrus Vance.
After Clinton introduces his budget, the House of Representatives will begin its task of writing the annual foreign aid bill. Hearings are expected in the spring.