23 October 2012

Politics and Foreign Aid: What Romney and Obama can Learn from Huckabee and Lincoln

One of the most effective ways to advocate for foreign aid when it comes to the American electorate is by couching it in terms of American interests. Specifically, it means talking about national security. Such definitions lean towards examples like nation building in Afghanistan and ensuring stability in important allies like Pakistan.

Other uses of aid, especially in the humanitarian sense and in places like Zambia and the Philippines are sidelined. It seems that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Blanche Lincoln did not get the memo when writing an OpEd in Politico that lays out the importance of investing in poverty reduction and global health.
American investments in cost-effective vaccines will help save nearly 4 million children’s lives from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea over the next five years. We’ve also helped to deliver 290 million mosquito nets to Malaria-stricken countries, and put 46 million children in school for the very first time. And thanks to the leadership of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, 8 million HIV/AIDS patients now have access to life-saving treatments, up from just 300,000 a decade ago, making an AIDS-free generation a real possibility within our lifetimes. 
A healthier, less impoverished planet is good for all of us. From an economic standpoint, it allows people to contribute more to the marketplace and lead productive lives. U.S. foreign assistance opens new markets to U.S. goods and services and creates new trading partners and allies. 
Consider Africa, where, for the first time, the continent is receiving more foreign investment than foreign aid. Six of the 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa, which has sustained average economic growth above 5 percent over the past decade. Countries in Africa and the rest of the developing world are becoming global players essential for our own continued growth. 
The two are speaking on behalf of the ONE Campaign's ONE Vote 2012 initiative that seeks to engage the presidential candidates on the issue of extreme poverty and preventable disease. Both Obama and Romney share statements that commend ONE and outline their visions of foreign aid.

President Obama makes the early point about foreign aid and national security saying, "Hunger, disease and poverty can lead to global instability and leave a vacuum for extremism to fill. So instead of just managing poverty, we must offer nations and people a pathway out of poverty. And as president I've made development a pillar of our foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense."

Governor Romney takes a different approach by saying that he will retool a broken aid system. "The biggest problem with our foreign aid strategies is that many of them are ineffective. Too often, our aid supplants work that is more effectively done by private enterprise and investment in other nations. Our aid should instead focus on building the institutions of liberty that will create lasting development and change."

A divergent tone betrays the fact that Romney and Obama are saying pretty much the same thing. Romney takes more time to talk about trade and mentions his Prosperity Pact program that was unveiled at CGI. From his summary, it sounds a lot like what the US, World Bank and other actors have been doing with aid money for years. "Working with the private sector, we will identify barriers to foreign investment and trade in developing nations. And in exchange for removing them, we will offer those countries aid packages focused on developing the rule of law, property rights, and other institutions of liberty," explains Romney.

In other words, countries have to open their markets in order to receive aid money. It is not a new concept. Obama also stresses the importance of building markets by focusing on agriculture. It is a nod to the Feed the Future program established under his administration. "Together, we're mobilizing private capital to fast-track new agricultural projects. We'll speed up innovations such as better seeds and better storage. We're helping African farmers gain access to agricultural data, from satellite imagery to weather forecasts to market prices, right on their mobile phones," he says.

Feed the Future is doing what Obama outlines and operates in the innovative manner which seems to fit Romney's Prosperity Pact idea. Both candidates neglect to make the strong argument that Huckabee and Lincoln make in terms of

Obama does tip his cap to the moral argument of ending poverty when he says, " I ran for president in part because I believe our country should reflect a common creed that says, "I am my brother's keeper. I am my sister's keeper."" Romney ignores such an argument with a pinpoint focus on trade and a passing mention of PEPFAR.

Much like the debate last night, the two candidates are looking for ways to differ while largely agreeing.  The evening's debate attempted to be more argumentative, but it showed little about the two other than the fact that they agree on which issues matter most.

Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter called to attention what was missing from the debate and what that meant in her reaction for the New York Times.
Beyond individual countries, consider the silence on the global issues that are vitally important to the rest of the world. Neither candidate ever uttered the word “climate.” Or drug violence. Or poverty, disease, food, water, or even energy. 
This really wasn’t a debate about foreign policy or world affairs. It was the projection of the American electoral map onto the globe. All discussion of Israel and Islam was targeted at Florida; all discussion of China was targeted at Ohio. From a real foreign policy perspective, a business in which we devote a great deal of time and effort to reassuring and mobilizing our friends and allies and trying to solve global problems, we can only hope the rest of the world wasn’t listening.
Hopefully the rest of the world was listening to Huckabee and Linclon when they wrote, "A healthier, less impoverished planet is good for all of us."

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