By Mark Green, Ambassador and Congressman (ret.)
I recently began posting a series of pieces with some of the reasons why I believe (a) America needs foreign assistance reform and (b) Conservatives should take up the cause. Done right, foreign assistance can play a crucial role in our foreign policy. Unfortunately, the status quo isn’t “done right” or, at least, done as well as it could be.
Here are my first three reasons:
Reason 1: Our current foreign aid system is organizationally incoherent.
Reason 2: We need to reform the system to make our precious taxpayer dollars go much further.
Reason 3: Foreign assistance reform is a great opportunity for Conservatives to reaffirm values and initiatives we care about.
And now . . . Reason 4: Simply put, Conservatives (and Republicans) have a long history of standing up for EFFECTIVE foreign assistance.
I served in Congress from 1999 to 2007, and was a proud member of the unprecedented bipartisan coalition which launched foreign assistance initiatives that have lifted America’s role in the developing world. From President Bush’s HIV/AIDS initiative (PEPFAR) to the Millennium Challenge Act (MCA) to the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), these historic programs have changed the course of human history in some of the world’s most impoverished lands.
None of these would have been possible without the leadership of conservative members of Congress and the George W. Bush Administration.
For example, the late Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, who was once Congress’ most strident anti-foreign-aid voices, actually co-sponsored a bill providing $200 million to help fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. He joined other staunch conservatives, including the late Congressman Henry Hyde and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, in passing landmark programs such as African debt relief, the MCA and our HIV/AIDS and malaria initiatives. Sen. Helms and other Conservatives helped craft these initiatives because they believed that effective foreign assistance programs can show the world American values in action.
Bush, Helms and Frist were hardly alone in their leadership. While it’s certainly true that some Conservatives have consistently opposed foreign aid, others have realized that there IS a role for America to play in development, and that Conservatives can and should fight to make it as effective as possible.
As far back as 1969, Republicans like President Richard Nixon recognized the importance of making foreign assistance as effective as possible:
“I agree with the conclusion of the Peterson Task Force that the downward trend of U.S. contributions to the development process should be reversed. I also agree with the Peterson Report that the level of foreign assistance ‘is only one side of the coin.’ The other side is a convincing determination that these resources can and will be used effectively.”
President Ronald Reagan insisted that our system of foreign assistance be scrutinized and reformed. But he also saw assistance as an important part of American policy.
“Foreign aid suffers from a lack of domestic constituency, in large part because the results of the programs are not often immediately visible and self-evident….It has been a major objective of this administration to subject all Federal programs to continuous and rigorous scrutiny to ensure that they directly serve United States interests and that each dollar is effectively used. My administration undertook a thorough and careful review of foreign assistance when we assumed office. We have worked closely with the Congress on this legislation. It reflects the considered judgment of both branches that our national interests are inextricably tied to the security and development of our friends and allies.” (1981)
Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Schultz, also spoke of how effective foreign assistance was in America’s best interests:
“Our assistance program is not an end in itself. Yes, we seek to help people build better lives economically and across the whole spectrum of human needs and aspirations. . . . Economic and security assistance are not just a moral duty; they also serve our national interests. When conceived and administered well, assistance programs strengthen our foreign policy and enhance the security of our nation. By promoting economic development in needy countries, we bolster the vitality and security of the free world.” (1984)
In more recent times, Senator Jesse Helms spoke out strongly about the inefficiencies he saw in the patchwork of programs and fragmented authorities in the foreign assistance system.
“I pledge that for every dollar we take out of bureaucratic overhead, I will support a matching dollar increase in US assistance delivered through these private and faith-based charities. In other words, every one dollar that is cut from bureaucracy will translate into two dollars in real relief for the world’s neediest people” (2001)
Critics often lampooned President George W. Bush’s syntax and “bushisms.” In fact, he often made fun of himself in this regard. However, no American leader has offered a more eloquent description of what America’s role should be in helping the world’s downtrodden.
“Many here today have devoted their lives to the fight against global poverty, and you know the stakes. We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror. We fight against poverty because opportunity is a fundamental right to human dignity. We fight against poverty because faith requires it and conscience demands it. And we fight against poverty with a growing conviction that major progress is within our reach.”(2002)
But “Bush 43” was also clear that foreign assistance should be a hand up, not a hand out – that just as wealthy nations have an obligation to help, recipient nations must also help themselves. He argued that aid should be tied to reform and self-improvement.
“The goal of our development aid will be for nations to grow and prosper beyond the need for any aid. When nations adopt reforms, each dollar of aid attracts $2 of private investments. When aid is linked to good policy, four times as many people are lifted out of poverty compared to old aid practices.” (2002)
In other words, when today’s Conservative leaders take up the call to help reform our foreign assistance system, they will be joining a line of proud Conservatives, from President Reagan and Senator Jesse Helms to President George W. Bush and Congressman Henry Hyde. These men understand why foreign assistance is important and, just as importantly, why it must be made better. And they understood that it can only reach its potential if Conservatives help it get there.
Mark Green is currently the Managing Director of the Malaria Policy Center in Washington.