Political Animal


October 19, 2011 10:15 AM The misguided attacks on foreign aid

By Steve Benen

Towards the end of last night’s debate, a voter raised a question that probably resonated with many viewers: “The American people are suffering in our country right now. Why do we continue to send foreign aid to other countries when we need all the help we can get for ourselves?”

Rick Perry quickly embraced the sentiment, not only endorsing cuts to foreign aid, but also questioning the value in helping fund the United Nations. Mitt Romney was asked the same question.

“Foreign aid has several elements. One of those elements is defense, is to make sure that we are able to have the defense resources we want in certain places of the world. That probably ought to fall under the Department of Defense budget rather than a foreign aid budget.

“Part of it is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people.”

Let that one rattle around in your brain for a moment. Mitt Romney believes the United States should no longer take the lead in international humanitarian relief — we should simply cede our leadership role to China.

Some may find this satisfying, in a know-nothing, knee-jerk sort of way. There’s polling data to suggest Americans believe 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid, so when asked where policymakers can cut spending, this is generally at the top of the list.

And then there’s reality: the foreign aid budget represents about 1 percent of all federal spending. In a time of humanitarian crises and global political uncertainty, it’s absolutely critical — and in our interests — for the United States to stay engaged in our “smart power” efforts and maximize our influence in the world.

Republicans appear to believe the opposite. Mitt Romney is eager to let China replace us in this area of global leadership.

This debate isn’t limited to rhetoric from misguided presidential candidates; it includes efforts from congressional Republicans who agree with Romney about these investments. The cuts the GOP has in mind “have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps.”

The right’s hostility towards American global leadership never ceases to amaze me.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • bleh on October 19, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Knee-jerk nativism is nothing new.

    And remember, these are the people who like the idea of frying people on electric fences, and for whom candidates try to one-up each other in the number and height of fences they say they'll put up.

    Just be glad they didn't all erupt in chants of "USA! USA!"

  • c u n d gulag on October 19, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Well, thanks to our glorious history of American Exceptionalism, I'm sure that the next time there's a humanitarian crisis in the world, they'll make an 'excpetion' and forgive us if we sit out helping anybody.

    Apparently, the roots of the current Republican Party come less from Lincoln, and more from the Know Nothing Party.

  • Perspecticus on October 19, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Just want to remind you, Steve, that Mitt is not the only Republican of late to voice a "Let the Chinese do it" perspective. Youposted a story, at least I think it was you, a week or two ago about the GOP Rep who believes there is no way we can beat the Chinese in new energy technologies, so we should not bother investing in them. Apparently, "Can't Someone Else Do It?" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trash_of_the_Titans ) is a developing policy position within the party of personal responsiblity.

  • T2 on October 19, 2011 10:29 AM:

    A great deal of our Foreign Aid goes to rebuild countries we have blown up in George W. Bush's wars. Billions of dollars into the hands of sheiks and Abdullah's in Iraq and Afghanistan....all wasted. every buck.

  • derv on October 19, 2011 10:29 AM:

    "The right�s hostility towards American global leadership never ceases to amaze me."

    This amazes you? Remember what the extent of the foreign policy focus of the GOP is right now: American Exceptionalism. Who needs stupid stuff like 'global leadership'? That sounds socialist! :)

  • jrosen on October 19, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Funny coincidence. Today in NYT Friedman suggested having the Chinese rebuild our bridges for us. I'm still undecided whether he means it (in which case he is ready for the funny farm) or whether he is snarking (in which case he is both flaunting his inability to do comedy and illustrating Poe's Law).

    I wish the whole crazy world would just go away and leave me alone.

  • DAY on October 19, 2011 10:36 AM:

    "-We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people.”"

    Mitt, they HAVE been doing that, for decades. You may want to take a look at the Chinese presence in Africa and South America.
    While we bomb and kill, they build and buy.

  • walt on October 19, 2011 10:39 AM:

    As much as I want to pile on that congenital liar, Mitt Romney gets at least half the answer right: foreign aid is effectively defense spending. The rubes who think it's 25% of the federal budget don't mind spending hundreds of billions bombing brown people, but let one dollar go to feeding them and suddenly our national mission has been taken over by hippies.

    Romney's Let China Do It card is not serious and he knows it. But for someone who panders like other people breathe, it's fairly anodyne.

  • Mudge on October 19, 2011 10:43 AM:

    And much of our foreign aid is to Israel. I am reminded of the aid to Brazil to drill offshore for oil in which it was required that all the money be spent on American made supplies. Sounds more like Halliburton aid to me. Much of the Israeli aid leads to arms purchases (plane, tanks, etc.) The fraction that goes to humanitarian causes is much less than 1%.

    And what's with a "pi" symbol in the Captcha?

  • Peter C on October 19, 2011 10:45 AM:

    Republicans cultivate 'visceral thinking' among their followers; it is easy to manipulate. When FOX isn't actively misinforming, the bulk of its energy is spent on exercising and increasing the 'gut response' capacity of low-information voters. We will have difficulty assembling more than slim majorities while FOX is able to pump out its poison day after day. If we do manage to achieve a super-majority again, I hope we restore some form of 'truth in media' and 'verifiable voting'; beware of any that argue against them.

  • SYSPROG on October 19, 2011 11:12 AM:

    As per usual...how does this 'square' with their 'American Exceptionalism' argument? This aholes are so deluded and think the voter is so stupid that they continually talk out of both sides of their mouths.

  • phein on October 19, 2011 11:34 AM:

    Most "foreign aid" dollars are used to purchase commodities or weapons in the US and ship them overseas. If Republicans want to ban the use of foreign aid dollars for military hardware, go for it.

  • cp1919 on October 19, 2011 1:10 PM:

    I thought it was a Christian value to tithe to the less fortunate.

    And I know that foreign spending is no where near 10%

  • Robert Waldmann on November 13, 2011 9:17 AM:

    I passionately agree.

    I want to add that aside from being evil Romney is also ignorant.

    Military aid is not the way the US is "able to have the defense resources we want in certain places of the world."
    It is aid, as in given away. It is the way the US makes sure it's friends, allies and Pakistan have defence resources we want them to have.

    The massive spending which Romney confuses with foreign aid is DOD overseas spending. It is huge. It is totally unreasonable. It is not foreign aid.