25 September 2012

Romney at CGI: Foreign Aid Flop

Bill Clinton welcomed Presidential candidate Mitt Romney to the stage at the annual Clinton Global Initiative to deliver remarks concerning foreign policy and aid. Clinton praised Romney for his leadership by ensuring that CityYear would not come under the axe of budget cuts in the 1990s. Romney offered thanks for the praise from the former President remarking, “If there’s one thing we’ve learned this election season, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good.”

With some lines that built on his work with CityYear and the Salt Lake Olympics, Romney argued for the importance of partnerships. The partnerships that are facilitated by CGI were a way for him to deliver a compliment to Clinton while focusing in on what became the theme of the remarks: private sector and free enterprise.

“Free enterprise has done more to bless humanity than any other economic system not only because it is the only system that creates a prosperous middle class, but also because it is the only system where the individual enjoys the freedom to guide and build his or her own life. Free enterprise cannot only make us better off financially, it can make us better people,” said Romney.

The event provided Romney the opportunity to make what are some of his most substantive remarks on the issue of foreign aid. He argued that the present aid delivery systems are not reflective of the changing world remarking, “Many of our foreign aid efforts were designed at a time when government development assistance accounted for roughly 70 percent of all resources flowing to developing nations.”

The shift from aid to trade is one that the Obama administration has stressed through policy and remarks. The June strategy for sub-Saharan Africa included the four pillars for the region: Strengthen democratic institutions; Spur economic growth, trade, and investment; Advance peace and security; and Promote opportunity and development.

Romney seemingly echoed the pillars of the Obama administration’s policy by saying that foreign aid should address humanitarian need, foster the strategic interests of the US and use aid to elevate people and provide lasting change. He was deliberate to point out that Obama does not focus enough on the last point, but the released policies of the administration and its actions over the past four years tell a different story.

In order to realize long lasting development, Romney called for the implementation ‘Prosperity Pacts’ with developing countries. “Working with the private sector, the program will identify the barriers to investment, trade, and entrepreneurialism in developing nations. In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights,” he explained.

Romney attempted to use his remarks to distance himself from Obama by saying that he supports the private sector and free enterprise. Little did he realize that he was advocating for the very same policies and priorities already in action by the Obama administration.

At best, his ideas were a continuation of engaging with developing countries to support democracy, economic growth and security. At worst, Romney is arguing for the return of the failed Washington Consensus. He vaguely referred to changing the trade agreements already in place, but provided little information as to how they would be shaped.

“I will reverse this trend by ensuring we have trade that works for America. I will negotiate new trade agreements, ask Congress to reinstate Trade Promotion Authority, complete negotiations to expand the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and create what I call a “Reagan Economic Zone,” where any nation willing to play by the rules can participate in a new community committed to fair and free trade.”

To most Americans, Romney made an argument for improving aid by focusing on trade. He spoke as if the idea ran against what the Obama administration has been doing. The fact of the matter is that Romney’s catch phrases indicate little change in American aid policy for his administration.

“A year from now, I hope to return to this meeting as president, having made substantial progress toward achieving the reforms I’ve outlined. But I also hope to remind the world of the goodness and the bigness of the American heart. I will never apologize for America. I believe that America has been one of the greatest forces for good the world has ever known. We can hold that knowledge in our hearts with humility and unwavering conviction,” concluded Romney making his small jab at Obama.