All you have to know about foreign aid is this: Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but as George Bush just said, if a country is serious about receiving it, it must make itself deserving. It must introduce legal, political and economic reform. Actually this will not solve all the problems with foreign aid, not nearly, although certainly it’s a start. Foreign aid has long been a ramshackle operation, with muddy goals and blighted hopes, and, as conservatives never tire of pointing out, a great deal of waste, fraud and abuse.
Bush, however, wants to change this. “Pouring money into a failed status quo does little to help the poor, and can actually delay the progress of reform,” he told the U.N. conference on global poverty in Monterrey, Mexico, last week. He also told the conference, which was attended by some fifty heads of state, that the U.S. would steadily increase its spending on aid. By 2006, it would rise by almost 50 percent. Aid advocates welcomed the news, of course, although the usual critics were heard from.
Fidel Castro showed up in his combat fatigues, for example, and denounced the Western nations in general and the U.S. in particular. “Their traditional offers of assistance, always scant and often ridiculous,” he said, “are either inadequate or unfilled.” The American delegation to the conference walked out during his speech. The day before that, Jimmy Carter told the conference that whatever the U.S. gives in aid, it probably won’t be enough. Carter reportedly will visit Cuba later this year, and then he and Fidel can commiserate.
Bush’s proposal on foreign aid will also be criticized, no doubt, by traditional foes in Congress who will say the U.S. cannot afford any increase. Some congressional statesman is sure to talk about “pouring money down a rathole.” By rathole he will mean some sorry country he couldn’t find on a map, although any real culprit will elude him. Egypt, a corrupt one-party state under President-for-life Hosni Mubarak, who is now openly promoting his son to succeed him, will get $700 million in aid this year. Hardly anyone, though, will object. Meanwhile the congressional statesmen will all continue to vote for utterly unnecessary farm subsidies. Since 1978, the subsidies now amount to more than $300 billion, or about 10 percent of the national debt.
To be sure, though, aid is an easy target. Africa’s long suffering, and extraordinarily patient people, need foreign aid, although African leaders are behaving even worse than usual. The aging kleptomaniacs at the 53-nation Organization of African Unity recently pronounced the wholly undemocratic election that kept Robert Mugabe in office in Zimbabwe as “credible, free and fair.” You may also note that Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria, was a speaker at Monterrey. He also turns up at Rose Garden ceremonies in Washington, and, along with Bono, is famous for calling for debt relief. Meanwhile Nigeria is spending more money on a preposterous, pork-drenched sports stadium than it is on health and education programs combined.
Bush wants to change all this by making the countries that receive U.S. aid more accountable. Indeed there is now general agreement among donor nations, even the boutique members of the Europe Union, that the old ways of providing aid no longer work. Many speakers at Monterrey, including Bush, cited a connection between economic despair and terrorism, and said that was reason enough to provide more aid for impoverished countries. That may be true, although there is a better reason than that, and Jesse Helms, good man that he is, has found it.
Helms announced over the weekend that he and Senator Bill Frist would soon introduce legislation that would add $500 million to the U.S. contribution toward fighting AIDS, especially in stricken Africa. Helms also explained why he is doing this in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post. It is worth quoting now at length:
“The United States has become, economically and militarily, the world’s greatest power. I hope that we have also become the world’s wisest power, and that our wisdom will show us how to use that power in the most judicious manner possible, as we have a responsibility to those on earth to exercise great restraint.
“But not all laws are of this earth. We also have a higher calling, and in the end our conscience is answerable to God. Perhaps, in my 81st year, I am too mindful of meeting Him, but I know that, like the Samaritan traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, we cannot turn away when we see our fellow man in need.”
The only thing to add is, amen.
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