Foreign Aid in a Crisis (or Three)

UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro fears, with good reason, that the triple whammy of the financial crisis, global food shortage, and climate change will jeopardize countries’ abilities to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Not so fast, the Bush administration has admirably responded.

From President Bush:

“America is committed, and America must stay committed, to international development for reasons that remain true regardless of the ebb and flow of the markets.”

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

“Some will ask the inevitable question in these troubled times: ‘How can we afford it?'” she said. “I would ask instead, ‘How can we not afford it?'”

Secretary Rice’s point should be sharply compelling — given the benefit to national security that so-called “soft” power brings — but in an election, the first question appeals a little too easily to voters. This is likely why Senators Obama and Biden have already admitted that their plans to double foreign aid will have to be “delayed,” while the McCain camp has been murky on the subject.

The Bush administration will not be the one determining the level of foreign aid over the next four years, but even here, the rhetoric may overshadow the substance. While the United States still gives over $20 billion in development assistance — more than any other country — it cut this budget by 3.5% in 2007. Still, both campaigns could do well to listen to a little lameduck optimism here.