Effective Foreign Assistance is a Moral Imperative

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.

To summarize, here are my first five 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. 

Reason 4: Simply put, Conservatives (and Republicans) have a long history of standing up for EFFECTIVE foreign assistance.

Reason 5: The combination of fragmented authorities and overlapping bureaucracies in our current assistance framework is watering down public diplomacy efforts.

And now . . .Reason 6: Making our foreign assistance operate as effectively as possible is a moral and ethical imperative.

Conservative religious leaders have long voiced their support for helping the world’s poorest:

I deeply believe that if we as evangelicals remain silent and do not speak up in defense of the poor, we lose our credibility and our right to witness about God’s love and Word. — Rick Warren

If I were a parent in a poor, debt-riddled nation, cradling my dying child in my arms, my heart would be broken and I would cry out for a solution. My prayer is that the leaders of the world will heed these cries and will work together to solve this critical problem. As a follower of Jesus, however, I believe this is not just a political or economic issue, it’s a moral and spiritual issue as well.

— Billy Graham

In the present world order, the African nations are among the most disadvantaged. Rich countries must become clearly aware of their duty to support the efforts of the countries struggling to rise from their poverty and misery… Because all men and women bear God’s image and are called to belong to the same family redeemed by Christ’s Blood . . .

— Pope John Paul II

Mark Green villageDebates over foreign assistance – funding levels, delivery mechanisms, program structure, etc. – are too often dominated by development insiders.  These experts – government officials, aid contractors, etc. – are certainly experienced and informed, but their focus is naturally on their own particular portfolio, and when they do make larger points, they can become lost in a maze of bureaucratic jargon and process arguments.

As we talk about America’s relationship to the rest of the world, particularly the developing world, we need to remind ourselves why many of our most effective assistance tools were first launched.  It’s not because we wanted to create new “make-work” for bureaucrats or a new entitlement for our implementing partners. These initiatives were created for noble purposes — to help lift lives and build communities in challenged parts of the world. They were created because, as President Kennedy said,

“There is no escaping … our moral  obligations as a wise leader and a good neighbor in the interdependent community of free nations . . . as the wealthiest people in a world of largely poor people. . . .“

They were created because, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said,

Power matters. But there can be no absence of moral content in American foreign policy, and furthermore, the American people wouldn’t accept such an absence. Europeans giggle at this and say we’re naïve and so on, but we’re not Europeans – we’re Americans – and we have different principles.

They were created because as, President George W. Bush said,

. . .[W]e’re committed to development because it’s in our moral interests. I strongly believe in the timeless truth, to whom much is given, much is required. We are a blessed nation, and I believe we have a duty to help those less fortunate around the world. We believe that power to save lives comes with the obligation to use it.


If, in fact, this sense of compassion and moral obligation is part of what underpins our foreign assistance – from disaster relief to helping tackle the AIDS pandemic – then this same sense should push us to make sure we do it as effectively as possible.  As individuals, each of us makes choices as to the charities we’re going to support with our hard earned money. As we do so, we support those that can make our dollars go the furthest . . .that help us do the most good with what we can give. That same sentiment should apply when policymakers examine our foreign assistance framework – we need to make choices as to how we can do the most good with the limited resources that we can dedicate.

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