The Republican primaries featured plenty of rhetoric aimed at U.S. foreign aid, with several candidates calling for a fundamental rethinking of how such assistance is distributed (and Ron Paul calling for its abolition altogether).
On Wednesday, several Bush administration veterans came together at a forum in Tampa — sponsored by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, the International Republican Institute and the One campaign — to discuss U.S. development assistance and proudly recall their administration’s successes in tackling AIDS in Africa and other international development issues.
Panelists readily acknowledged the challenge of advocating for humanitarian and development aid in the current political and budgetary climate. Panel moderator Josh Bolten (the former Bush White House chief of staff) with "a Republican Party that is candidly… skeptical about spending money on this."
Indeed, while it went unnoted at the forum, Mitt Romney himself, during a Republican primary debate in October of last year, seemed to call for the abolition of such U.S. aid, suggesting that China should instead take over that role. ("I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid," he said. "We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are taking that borrowed money today.")
In light of Romney’s remark, I was struck by what former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to say at the forum when asked by Bolten how she would make the case for U.S. humanitarian aid.
She responded that you had to "direct your arguments to the American people and their sense of what’s right in the world." She added that aid advocates need to make arguments about effectiveness and accountability, making such assistance conditional on foreign countries taking steps so that "they won’t be permanently on the dole."
Then, in an effective counterpoint to Romney’s debate remark, Rice warned against ceding the humanitarian aid business to China:
I think if you make those arguments in the context of knowing that we know after 9/11 that our fate and the fate of even the poorest countries is inextricably linked, you can say to people: This is a 1% that is well spent, and lets them say that we’re not ceding the field to others.
I would make just one other argument in that regard. You know, we all talk a lot about the rise of China, and sometimes I think it’s been an overstated case, because the Chinese have a lot of itnernal problems. But if you look at one place that China is in fact competing and competing hard, it is for resources throughout the developing world, it is through foreign assistance of a kind that is actually not going to help those countries become responsible sovereigns.
I think we have a pretty good consensus — the United States, Europe, Japan, the IMF, the World Bank — that you ought to have countries that are fighting corruption, that you ought to have places where they are trying to invest in their people be the recipients of foreign assistance, but foreign assistance is a two-way street. In China, with the Chinese, that’s not the issue. it’s, "Let me have your resources, and I really will fund this even if you are a corrupt government." And so we do have a competitor on that front, and that’s an argument that I think also ought to be made.
Rice, of course, has endorsed Romney. And it’s not clear that Romney’s deprecating remark about foreign aid was much more than debate rhetoric. His campaign website cites the importance of "soft power" and calls for capitalizing on "our historical generosity toward nations in need to attract allies — old and new — to the cause of liberty and peace."
Last year, I looked at the Republicans’ foreign aid debate, and an intervention of another Bush administration veteran (Paul Wolfowitz), as well as the Jewish interest in the issue.