The Obama administration has announced plans to withhold U.S. foreign assistance to protect vulnerable gay and lesbian communities, abroad. This strikes me as problematic.
To be clear, I find the codified criminalization of gay and lesbian people revolting. Wherever we all stand on matters relating to DOMA, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” et cetera, I would hope we can agree that human beings should not suffer harassment, injury, or death based on their perceived sexual orientation.
However, I am concerned that the use of foreign aid to promote human rights will prove shortsighted and largely unsuccessful, for three reasons.
First of all, empirical studies of human rights and foreign aid have produced conflicting studies. Social engineering via U.S. tax dollars would almost certainly qualify as an uncertain, unwelcome and imprecise policy diktat to foreign nations. The Obama administration cannot adjust distant attitudes about gay and lesbians through bribery. Attempts to do so will produce superficial results, at best.
Secondly, if the president has decided that this country is going to advance gay and lesbian rights as a core human value (presumably in keeping with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, if not a sizeable proportion of the U.S. body politic) then Obama has painted himself in the proverbial corner. For this reason, I don’t think he have any intention of keeping his word, although his administration’s incredibly broad statement allows for plenty of wiggle room.
Consider the case of Uganda, where he recently sent a crack squad of American special forces to take sides in a decades-old bush war. Uganda is widely recognized as one of the worst places on earth to live if you’re a homosexual, and I’ll be interested to learn just how soon those troops are recalled now that the Obama administration has changed the rules of the aid game. Likewise, I’ll believe it when I see the United States pull military aid and foreign assistance from places like like Egypt, India, and Saudi Arabia — each a mainstay of virulent homophobia. Such is the contradiction of toothless political pronouncement — and the root cause of many Americans’ dissatisfaction with our global handouts.
And finally, I think we can all recognize this for what it is…a transparent political outreach to a core Democratic constituency on the home front, gussied up in the guise of global cosmopolitanism.