“Do good things and let people know you’re doing them.”

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 nine 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.

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

Reason 7: The lack of coordination between our foreign assistance programs and our trade policies is hurting the effectiveness of both.

Reason 8: Conservatives need to ensure that our foreign assistance system recognizes, protects and builds on the enormous contributions to development being made by other-than-government sources – especially faith-based institutions.

Reason 9: Making our foreign assistance system more effective can help bring home our men and women in uniform – and make future deployments less necessary/minimize the need for future deployments.

And now…Reason 10: Since fighting the threat of terrorism is one of this generation’s greatest challenges, we need to sharpen those tools that can help prevent violent extremism from spreading and growing.

Most Conservatives believe that terrorism, and the extremist ideologies that fuel it, represents a challenge of historic proportions for America. But this challenge won’t be met by soldiers and bullets alone.

As the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)  Commission on Smart Power put it in 2007, “Today’s central question is not simply whether we are capturing or killing more terrorists than are being recruited and trained, but whether we are providing more opportunities than our enemies can destroy and whether we are addressing more grievances than they can record.”

George W. Bush

Why should providing opportunities be mentioned in the same breath as fighting terrorism? There are at least two reasons. First, while poverty does not cause terrorism, poverty can lead to despair – a condition extremists know how to exploit. As the Bush Administration’s 2002 National Security Strategy stated,

Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and

murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption

can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and

drug cartels within their borders…The United States will

stand beside any nation determined to build a better future

by seeking the rewards of liberty for its people.

Simply put, it’s in our long-term security interests to help sow seeds of hope in troubled lands.

A second reason to talk about providing opportunities in national security terms is that terrorist recruitment relies on a narrative that portrays the United States, and the American way of life, as “evil.”  Effective foreign assistance can help counter that narrative.  As Defense Secretary Robert Gates has eloquently stated,

For all of those brave men and women struggling for a

better life, there is – and must be – no stronger ally or

advocate than the United States of America.  Let us never

forget that our nation remains a beacon of light for those

in dark places.

As I used to say to my senior team in Dar es Salaam when I served as Ambassador to Tanzania, our diplomatic strategy should be simple in places like Africa: “Do good things and let people know you’re doing them.” We should offer opportunities to our friends and be seen as doing so — as long as it’s done without a heavy hand of self-promotion.

In recent years, the American response to natural disasters has provided clear examples of American compassion in action . . . and the goodwill that it can earn. After the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, there was a surge in those countries of positive attitudes toward the U.S.  People were grateful for the relief, and, in Secretary Gates’ words, saw America as a “beacon of light.”

Skeptics, of course, are quick to point out that such gains in popularity are often temporary. But in many ways, that misses the point. Such a fluctuation calls not so much for a less generous response as it is does for a broader, more effective response to ongoing conditions of poverty and despair. By reforming our foreign assistance system, we can make it clear to the world that we are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with people in need – and that they can count on us not to leave them in the lurch.

Some of America’s global health programs are obvious examples of how effective and sustained assistance can reshape America’s image in the world . . . particularly in areas that have known extremism. As the CSIS Commission on Smart Power pointed out, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), both launched by the Bush Administration with strong bipartisan support, have helped to build a lasting favorable opinion of the United States throughout most of Africa.  In fact, a number of surveys have suggested that since 2006 America is more popular in Africa than in most other parts of the world – including Europe. What makes this is especially important is that of the 20 states that the “Failed States Index” ranks to be at greatest risk of collapse, 12 of them are in Africa.  If a fragile state fails, it creates a void that extremists will seek to fill.

There have been times in our nation’s history when many people have said that America’s standing in places like Africa didn’t matter much . . . that what took place in remote regions and far off lands had no bearing on America or our future.  Those same people probably thought, in the days leading up to September 11, 2001, that Afghanistan was of little consequence to us  . . . and that the offensive policies of an extremist regime would never impact the American people.

Many of our military leaders, retired and active, are among the strongest supporters of making our foreign assistance system more effective. Is it any wonder?

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