Foreign Aid Ruse

REPUBLICAN leaders in Congress have been loud critics of the Clinton administration's often inchoate foreign policy. But a GOP plan to cut foreign aid, spearheaded by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, seems to contain many of the same basic errors in approach that the White House has made.

One chief criticism of the State Department under President Clinton is that he has tended to approach foreign policy as an extension of US domestic policy. The overseas agenda of ``expanding markets'' reflects a domestic agenda of ``It's the economy, stupid.'' Foreign appointments, initiatives, and rhetoric about human rights seem aimed at often narrow domestic interests rather than reflecting a broader reading of America's place in the post-cold-war world as the most powerful democracy.

Yet in announcing a strategy to treat US foreign aid like welfare, and in seeking to cut aid to poor countries (mainly in Africa) by 15 to 20 percent, the congressional Republicans are also playing narrowly to a domestic audience. Senator McConnell has even adopted for African countries the language of welfare reform in the disproportionately black urban centers of America - calling it ``dependency.''

There is also in the GOP plan an implication that American taxpayers have long been fleeced by Capitol Hill spendthrifts bent on sending out funds to the undeserving abroad.

We urge the GOP to revise its foreign aid ``strategy.''

In the first place, US taxpayers spend a total of $13 billion a year ($3 billion to Israel alone) on foreign aid. This is, given the size and relative importance of America, very, very little. Desperate poverty abroad, including the hunger of children, is markedly affected by US dollars. Such help enhances the American image. This is not inconsequential.

Second, the GOP wants to spend tax dollars instead on areas of ``strategic interest'' such as former Soviet bloc countries. Do GOP leaders believe that officials in those regions are so much more responsible than those in developing states? Much of the aid will likely end up in the pockets of new mafia leaders in old Russia.

Thirdly, foreign policy is not domestic policy. It is a cheap trick, playing off narrow nativist vote-getting sentiments, to present foreign aid as a boondoggle. Spent well, it is not, even by objective criteria. It is an important foreign policy instrument and should be treated as such.

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