Shadow Government

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

New thinking in the 2012 GOP platform

No surprise that as a former George W. Bush appointee, I support the 2012 Republican Platform. But it is a surprise (at least to me) that there is actually a good bit to be excited about. After all, platforms are not often the stuff of "wow" moments. There are usually few surprises or wholly new ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages

No surprise that as a former George W. Bush appointee, I support the 2012 Republican Platform. But it is a surprise (at least to me) that there is actually a good bit to be excited about. After all, platforms are not often the stuff of "wow" moments. There are usually few surprises or wholly new ideas expressed every four years. Sometimes this is because the party's nominee is pursuing a second term, and sometimes it is because there just isn't a lot of change in a party's outlook.

To be sure, much of the 2012 platform echoes the 2008 platform, but where it differs, where it expands into new ideas, it is in my view exciting and inspiring. My focus, of course, is the foreign policy plank, and in particular, the section on international assistance. This section is not simply a re-tread of previous ideas.

It begins like last time by pointing out the generosity of the American people both in their publicly funded aid as well as aid from private sources. But it goes into greater detail to note the various ways that Americans are generous in their private giving of their time and talent and treasure -- and this aid comprises far more than what comes out of the USG's foreign aid budget. I just wish the point had been made in this section about the valuable role of the U.S. military in not only securing the delivery of aid but sometimes in the actual dispensing of it. Not to mention the benefits that accrue to a world where a superpower helps to keep or restore the peace, and keeps shipping lanes open without which there can be no free trade. To put a fine point on it for the sake of our heroic military (who will not brag on themselves), we were treated to this picture recently of Army Sgt. John Gebhardt comforting an Afghan child. Do yourself a favor and read the short item on this.

No surprise that as a former George W. Bush appointee, I support the 2012 Republican Platform. But it is a surprise (at least to me) that there is actually a good bit to be excited about. After all, platforms are not often the stuff of "wow" moments. There are usually few surprises or wholly new ideas expressed every four years. Sometimes this is because the party’s nominee is pursuing a second term, and sometimes it is because there just isn’t a lot of change in a party’s outlook.

To be sure, much of the 2012 platform echoes the 2008 platform, but where it differs, where it expands into new ideas, it is in my view exciting and inspiring. My focus, of course, is the foreign policy plank, and in particular, the section on international assistance. This section is not simply a re-tread of previous ideas.

It begins like last time by pointing out the generosity of the American people both in their publicly funded aid as well as aid from private sources. But it goes into greater detail to note the various ways that Americans are generous in their private giving of their time and talent and treasure — and this aid comprises far more than what comes out of the USG’s foreign aid budget. I just wish the point had been made in this section about the valuable role of the U.S. military in not only securing the delivery of aid but sometimes in the actual dispensing of it. Not to mention the benefits that accrue to a world where a superpower helps to keep or restore the peace, and keeps shipping lanes open without which there can be no free trade. To put a fine point on it for the sake of our heroic military (who will not brag on themselves), we were treated to this picture recently of Army Sgt. John Gebhardt comforting an Afghan child. Do yourself a favor and read the short item on this.

Next, the plank takes a swipe at the outdated way in which most donors have dispensed aid over the years: by providing aid to governments whether as budget support or toward programs that are treating symptoms and not the causes of poverty, disorder and tyranny. In the latter case, we must remember that money is fungible, so just because a program is good does not mean it is wise. Our focus should be on the causes of what we want to rid the nations of who ask for our assistance. The U.S. has done better than most at targeting aid toward people and worthy programs that attack those root causes, but there is still much more to do in terms of reform, and this plank deals with that as well.

I appreciate that the party emphasizes that the best way to assist people overseas is not through government. Rather, the plank points to charity and the great engine of growth and prosperity that is the private sector.

Of great importance is that that party makes a very clear statement about the purpose of foreign assistance: it must serve our national interests in the form of promoting the "peaceful development of less advanced and vulnerable societies in critical parts of the world." It is that simple. U.S. taxpayer dollars are not a kitty from which politicians should feel free to do good with other people’s money. Aid programs whose goals are not measureable and that do not serve national interests — specifically defined — are not just a waste of money but a dereliction of duty. There is no shortage of congressmen and NGOs who can easily come up with warm fuzzy reasons why we should do something, but that’s not the question. Again, just because something might be good does not mean it is wise for the government to do it.

And the platform points to historical successes that can not only inspire us but guide us. Aid that has helped strengthen democracy and private enterprise in Latin America and East Asia should inspire us to put aid where it works: in places where leaders and citizens have determined to follow the path of free markets and free people.

And speaking of that approach, rather than provide a detailed list of programs (as was the case in the 2008 platform) the plank provides unequivocally the party’s foundation for all USG assistance: "U.S. aid should be based on the model of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, for which foreign governments must, in effect, compete for the dollars by showing respect for the rule of law, free enterprise, and measurable results. In short, aid money should follow positive outcomes, not pleas for more cash in the same corrupt official pockets."

So that is what we should do. What should we not do with international assistance? Here the plank takes a hard shot at the Obama administration’s practices over the last three and a half years. The plank criticizes the administration for basing its aid policies on its own cultural agenda as it has imposed its views on abortion and the homosexual rights agenda. It has blocked the participation of faith-based groups that were so key to many of the successes of the Bush administration. The conclusion of this section points to a clear policy change: "We will reverse this tragic course, encourage more involvement by the most effective aid organizations, and trust developing peoples to build their future from the ground up."

There are a number of other sections in the foreign policy plank that express new ideas, new ways of thinking, and that call for new policies. But this plank on international assistance is truly exceptional in that it calls for a reform of our foreign assistance philosophy. It elevates free people and free markets as the starting point; it says "treat the causes, not simply the symptoms."

It is quite appropriate, therefore, that the plank on foreign policy that deals with international assistance is titled "American Exceptionalism" because this approach truly is exceptional, like the United States of America.

Paul J. Bonicelli is professor of government at Regent University, and served as the assistantadministrator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United States Agency for International Development.

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