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US ELECTIONS/ The Aid to Development is the real Defense of true Democracy

EZIO CASTELLI discusses the positions of the Republican and Democratic parties on foreign aid and development for developing countries, and its importance for the United States.

(Infophoto) (Infophoto)

Most commentators, particularly after the last public debate on the theme, agree that the foreign policy divide between the two main presidential candidates isn’t that great.  In fact, during the October 22nd debate as well there was a tendency by the candidates to slip towards domestic issues.

Foreign policy has some sub-chapters to the main “D”, Defense, namely foreign affairs and assistance or aid, or the other two “Ds”: Diplomacy and Development. On the issue of foreign aid sponsored by the U.S. Government, the facts are poorly understood. Many Americans believe (maybe because they associate aid with defense) that it consumes a large part of the federal budget, even up to 25%, when it really is less than 2%.

And here we can recall that these themes were of acute concern to Congressional Leaders and the White House (and the interest groups and Government agencies mandated for foreign aid as well), in the last months of 2011 during the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations process for the International Affairs budget. But so far, the FY12 budget, contrary to some predictions, resulted in a total base funding close to the FY11 enacted level. And before leaving for recess last September, Congress, where more isolationist tendencies are feared, passed a Continuing Resolution through next February, which funds the International Affairs Budget near current levels at $55.2 billion.

But along  the campaign trail, both President Obama and Governor Romney made foreign aid and development the talk of the day only when they addressed the Clinton Global Initiative on last September 27th in New York City. More in depth talks on the subject were given by prominent figures, and possibly relevant appointees in the next administration like retired general Anthony Zinni and former World Bank president Robert Zoellick on the Republican side, and Ann Lewis and Bruce Jentleson on the Democratic side.

In New York, Mr. Romney acknowledged the value of foreign aid and its purpose: providing humanitarian assistance, improving security and encouraging economic growth, targeting aid more toward the private sector and foreign entrepreneurs. Mr. Romney didn’t call for slashing aid, as many in the Republican Party have. Yet, it is a fact that the budget drafted by his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan would cut foreign affairs spending by 10 per cent in 2013 and even more in 2016.