Saturday nights GOP debate at Wofford College in South Carolina focused on foreign policy and national defense. The most memorable line of the debate came from an unlikely source considering previous debate performances. About two-thirds of the way through the debate Gov. Rick Perry said his administration would start with zero international aid asking each nation, including Israel, to earn their support from the U.S.
This is the kind of red meat rhetoric that excites the Republican base and energizes the Tea Party. But is it sound policy or just tough sounding political talk? To answer that question intelligently requires more than just a cursory knee jerk reaction. For starters, the entire International Affairs budget for 2011 is just over $56 billion. That is less than one percent of the total U.S. budget. The request for 2012 is $55.7 billion and that includes $8.7 billion for overseas contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That money represents influence in a region where a void of leadership will lead to our enemies gaining ground America has paid for with the blood of our sons and daughters. We simply cannot afford to allow Iran and Syria to fill the void that would be left if the U.S. withdraws all international aid and thereby relinquishes our influence in the region.
Both China and Russia are aggressively seeking to forge new alliances with India, Pakistan, and Iran. As China grows economically and Russia returns to a policy of competing with the U.S. for influence in world we must not pull back into an isolationist mode that will curtail our influence and threaten our national security. The Arab Spring is still showing signs of becoming a radical Islamic winter. Egypt is teetering on the brink of embracing the Muslim Brotherhood. In Tunisia, recent elections reveal a sharply divided country that could easily descend into the grip of Islamic extremists. The recent uptick in the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the military’s reluctance to intervene to protect their rights should chill everyone in the West who hoped for a more democratic Egypt.
The Republican debate on international affairs divided the GOP hopefuls into two camps with most participants criticizing Pakistan for being an unreliable U.S. ally. While it is true Pakistan’s record on helping the U.S. hunt down terrorists is spotty at best it is also true, as Senator Rick Santorum pointed out, that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. While some of the candidates wanted to withdraw all aid from Pakistan and label them our enemy only Santorum made the point that we need to make sure Pakistan considers us a friend. Pakistan is a divided country with four active factions vying for control. The military, Islamic radicals, the recognized but weak civilian government, and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are all working to control the country. With the United States moving toward wrapping up its mission in Afghanistan a friendly Pakistan will be critical to the stabilization of the country. The United States should continue to seek out moderate elements within the Pakistani government and help them gain control over the more radical elements within the county.
Historically, international aid has helped the United States by turning struggling countries into strong allies. Almost ten years ago over 13 million people in Ethiopia faced starvation. The United States intervened with agricultural and global health development programs that ultimately empowered local farmers to become self-sufficient. The result…. the number of people at risk of starvation has dropped by 70 percent and Ethiopia has become a reliable ally in our efforts to curtail the influence of violent extremist groups in Africa.
Aid to Germany, Italy, and Japan after World War II and aid to South Korea after the Korean War helped to create stable democracies, strong economies, and important trading partners for the United States. If the United States had abandoned Europe, Japan and the Korean peninsula chaos would have risen and old conflicts may very well have reemerged in its wake.
Finally, American businesses are greatly aided by our efforts in international relations. To a great extent, our economic security is tied to our diplomatic and development efforts around the world. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization) 1 in 5 American jobs are tied to international trade. All over the world our embassies advocate for U.S. business interests overseas. Wisely invested international aid dollars mean American jobs at home and the more stable the world becomes the more secure our American interests.
It is true the United States can no longer afford to be the sugar daddy of the entire world. Our international aid must be closely scrutinized and appropriate cuts should be made as our out of control government spending gets reeled in. But while we cannot afford to spend money abroad like drunken sailors we also cannot afford the sobering prospect of total American isolationism.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and the Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina, Dr. Tony Beam received his Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and his Doctor of Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.