Los Angeles Times
5 February 2002
Investments in Peace
Polls show Americans believe that about 15% of the federal
budget goes for foreign aid. The actual number is less than
1%, a dismal figure that would remain about the same under
President Bush's $2.1-trillion budget for next year.
There are numerous competing priorities for the taxpayer's
money. Last September's terror means that more money must
be spent on defense and homeland security. But spending more
on foreign aid would increase this country's security by helping
nations lift themselves out of the poverty that breeds despair
and, in some cases, dangerous antipathy toward economically
successful nations. Sen. Jesse Helms, who thankfully is retiring,
some years ago denounced sending too much money "down foreign
rat holes." But the eradication of smallpox wasn't a rat hole.
The U.S. Agency for International Development helped U.N.
agencies and health workers in other countries purchase and
distribute smallpox vaccine. It persuaded nurses in villages
to educate women to inoculate their children against smallpox
and provided cards to show that the shots had been given.
Today the United States is also spending money on simple but
effective treatments to save infants in the Third World from
dying of diarrhea. Other funds pay for tablets that villagers
can drop in a well so they can drink the water without becoming
sick. Yes, strings must be attached to money, and vigilance
is required to ensure it pays for health or a schoolhouse
and not another Rolls-Royce for the local potentate. But it
can be done. It must be done.
The United States once did spend 15% of its budget on foreign
aid. That was in the years after World War II, and the money,
especially Marshall Plan money, helped rebuild all of Western
Europe, a great achievement that strengthened democracies
and averted wars.
Today HIV and AIDS threaten to kill so much of the educated
class in Africa that many nations may be forced onto the road
to collapse. The Bush administration last year put $300 million
into the Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
This year's figure is $200 million, a step in the wrong direction.
There is a strong argument to be made that if the United
States had not turned its back on Afghanistan after the Soviet
Union withdrew its troops there it could have helped stop
the downward spiral and constant battling of warlords that
cleared the path for the dreaded Taliban. More foreign aid
could have built schools, grown crops and improved health
enough to steer the nation away from decades of disaster.
Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House committee
that handles foreign aid, has said that the United States
can build a school in Pakistan for $60,000 and operate it
for $10,000. That would give parents an alternative to those
Islamic schools that teach only the Koran and hatred of America.
In the Senate, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and several
colleagues have been pushing to triple foreign aid. They need
to increase the volume of their arguments to the Bush administration
and the American people.