Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Why foreign assistance is still important

Secretary Clinton will testify tomorrow before the House Foreign Relations Committee, "Assessing U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities Amidst Economic Challenges: The Foreign Relations Budget for Fiscal Year 2013." Each year there are myriad advocacy groups lobbying for a robust foreign assistance budget and just as many saying enough with tax-payers’ money going to corrupt governments, congressional ...

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Secretary Clinton will testify tomorrow before the House Foreign Relations Committee, "Assessing U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities Amidst Economic Challenges: The Foreign Relations Budget for Fiscal Year 2013." Each year there are myriad advocacy groups lobbying for a robust foreign assistance budget and just as many saying enough with tax-payers' money going to corrupt governments, congressional earmarks, dubious special interest programs and long-standing civil servant pet projects that do nothing to address the challenges of the developing world or compliment U.S. foreign policy priorities.

This year, we can add to this annual procession of Republican candidates vying for the 2012 presidential nomination who still repeatedly call for a foreign assistance budget that starts at "zero." A position that still baffles me.

Americans may be more interested in domestic issues with gas prices rising sharply, unemployment still high, and continued instability in the market -- but a coherent message from Secretary Clinton that stresses the important role that foreign aid plays in an increasingly unstable democratic world is in dire need.

Secretary Clinton will testify tomorrow before the House Foreign Relations Committee, "Assessing U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities Amidst Economic Challenges: The Foreign Relations Budget for Fiscal Year 2013." Each year there are myriad advocacy groups lobbying for a robust foreign assistance budget and just as many saying enough with tax-payers’ money going to corrupt governments, congressional earmarks, dubious special interest programs and long-standing civil servant pet projects that do nothing to address the challenges of the developing world or compliment U.S. foreign policy priorities.

This year, we can add to this annual procession of Republican candidates vying for the 2012 presidential nomination who still repeatedly call for a foreign assistance budget that starts at "zero." A position that still baffles me.

Americans may be more interested in domestic issues with gas prices rising sharply, unemployment still high, and continued instability in the market — but a coherent message from Secretary Clinton that stresses the important role that foreign aid plays in an increasingly unstable democratic world is in dire need.

She should recognize the critical role that the U.S. plays promoting the ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights that we enjoy in the United States. Much has been said lately of Americans and other foreign nationals committed to democratic ideals being arrested in Egypt.  These anti-democratic actions highlight the danger and challenges of countries transitioning from years of dictatorial regimes to elected governments that represent the will of the people.  

In his testimony recently, IRI president Lorne Craner, stated that "one election does not a democracy make." He went on to say, "The second and third elections in transitional countries are more important than the first, because voters have by then had a chance to judge their satisfaction with initial winners, and the political space begins to consolidate in a manner reflective of the new democratic environment."  As a former senior administration official, I agree. Congress needs to support and defend the work that is being done in many transitioning countries.

Tomorrow, much will be said about the turmoil and progress that has been made in the Middle East. In the Secretary of State’s executive summary to Congress, she highlights the enormous changes we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa and the need for the U.S. to have a coordinated and strategic approach to foster (not control) peaceful democratic transitions. She states that the 2013 budget request provides a "blueprint of how diplomacy and development can sustain our country’s global leadership and deliver results for the American people."

I note with some optimism, to this regard, The Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund; a new program within an austerity budget — but still a big idea.

The budget request includes $770,000,000 to address democratic, economic, and institutional reforms in MENA — the Middle East and North Africa. It also mentions how various bureaus within the Department of State and USAID will coordinate and provide incentives and conditions on how aid monies will be allocated and accounted for.

Congress will certainly look to hold funding until they are comfortable that monies being spent are not supporting those who are opposed to democratic transition. To be sure, this will be a challenge but it is also a strategic risk we should be willing to take.

The road to democracy around the world will continue to be hard and dangerous. The U.S. should not back away from promoting the ideals of self-determination that humankind is willing to fight for.

It is nice to have a big idea within an austerity budget.

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