16 October 2012

Foreign Aid Should Not Be About Us and Them

The Political Action Committee supporting Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R) released an attack video on West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D). The video takes a hard-line stance on foreign aid that is espoused by Sen Paul and his father Rep Ron Paul (R-TX). In short, the argument is that Sen Machin supports foreign aid to countries that are not appreciative of the aid they receive.

The scenes move back and forth from riots to Sen Manchin in congress. The voice over punctuates the dichotomy by telling viewers that Sen Manchin is supportive of the riots because he agreed to send foreign aid to Egypt, Libya and Pakistan. The story builds from riots in Egypts, to the arrest of the doctor who supported the fake vaccination campaign in Pakistan, to the riots in Libya that led to the death of Ambassador Stevens.

With the stage set to show that Sen Manchin supports untrustworthy nations, the narrative flips to show a largely vacant street with a garbage bag over a parking meter, blowing in the wind. All it needs is a tumbleweed (or a modern equivalent) to really hit the scene home. The voice over says, "While millions of jobless men and women seek work, while our debt climbs higher and our roads and bridges crumble here at home, Joe Manchin works with Barack Obama to send billions of our taxpayer dollars to countries where radicals storm our embassies, burn our flag and kill our diplomats."

The tie in to President Obama is a tip to viewers to let them know that he is in on the same misdoings as Sen Manchin. By connecting back to the problems in the United States, the ad hopes that viewers will see Manchin as someone who is not concerned with what is happening here in the US and would rather spend billions of dollars on ungrateful countries.

Senator Paul attempted to cut off aid to Pakistan, Libya and Egypt in late September with an amendment that was voted down 81 to 10. "When you look at the polls of the American people, you find that nearly 80 percent of the American people think foreign aid in general is a bad idea. We have roads in our country that are crumbling and need repair, we have bridges that are crumbling. In my state alone we had a bridge out six months last year. We have two bridges that are older than I am and need to be replaced in Kentucky. We don't have the money, but we somehow have billions of dollars to send to people who disrespect us and burn our flag," said Sen Paul to Voice of America.

Senator Paul is in favor of cutting foreign aid entirely and has previously introduced or attempted to include amendments that either entirely cut or make major cuts into foreign aid.

The arch of the ad sets up the idea that it is 'us' verses 'them.' It is a point of view that often emerges in a phrase like, "Yea, but what about the people here who are in need. We have to take care of ourselves." The problem with such a point of view is that it understands issues like international stability and poverty eradication as a purely internal endeavor. Further, it places one group above another. The argument supposes that a poor American is more deserving of services than a poor Cambodian.

Aid itself is far from perfect and does not deserve blanket protection if improvements of its use are not possible. Setting ourselves above others creates a significant obstacle for reform. It reduces a much more complex discussion into a 60 second advertisement. There are important questions to discuss in regards to how aid is delivered to countries like Pakistan, Libya and Egypt, but one part of the questions must center around the role that the United States plays in what happens around the world.

The doctor who supported the vaccination campaign in Pakistan that helped lead to the killing of Bin Ladden is assumed to be a hero by Rand PAC. That ignores the fact that the United States held a fake vaccine campaign in another country, one that happens to need to have consistent vaccines to help bring an end to diseases like polio. A lot of work has gone in to building the trust to vaccinate children and ensure that they can live healthy lives. That trust was damaged thanks to the operation.

Foreign aid can seem like a fun political football to kick around, but it has direct impacts on people around the world. To ignore its impacts is shortsighted.