On Thursday, Bill Gates promised $750 million to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, which recently has lost donor appeal — and, as of Tuesday, also it’s executive director — because of corruption in the countries it operates. Gates announced at the World Economic Forum that neither these charges nor the tough economic climate are an “excuse for cutting aid to the world’s poorest.” Gates’ commitment to foreign aid in any and all circumstances represents the opinion of most Americans who support foreign assistance for moral and national security reasons. Foreign aid costs only 1% of the federal budget, yet GOP candidates consistently criticize the practice, threatening to cut it off completely or, as in the case of Mitt Romney, imply that the U.S. should leave it to countries like China to “take care” of poverty. If current GOP candidates properly understood the American public and foreign aid, they would tone down their hawkish stance on overseas assistance and acknowledge the benefits of contributing to aid organizations like The Global Fund.
According to a recent World Public Opinion report and the 2010 Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll, a strong majority of Americans support the provision of “food and medical assistance” (74%) and “aid to help needy countries to develop their economies” (62%) even in economic downturns. U.S. citizens believe that developed nations have a “moral responsibility” to help poorer countries and to take measures that support their democratic ambitions. In addition, most respondents said that helping developing countries is good for the America’s own economic growth.
It is for these reasons that President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, and Gates put up serious cash for the creation of The Global Fund, a multilateral financing organization that disburses grants directly to national governments. In 2010, The Global Fund suffered a cash shortfall and the U.S. renewed their commitment by increasing their contribution by 40% to $4 billion — far higher than any other country — because the return on investment was obvious. In just 10 years, The Global Fund financed AIDS treatment for 3.5 million people; diagnosed and treated 8.6 million cases of TB; distributed 230 million bed nets; and saved 7.7 million lives.
For all the criticism Bush received for his foreign policy, he understood the importance of foreign aid and was generous with it. He established the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which outside the Global Fund, has done more than any other organization to support global antiretroviral treatments. Unfortunately, his peers in the GOP primaries do not get share the same understanding of foreign aid’s importance. In November, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said, "I think the aid is all worthless. It doesn't do any good for most of the people. You take money from poor people in this country and you end up giving it to rich people in poorer countries."
Paul’s contempt for corruption is understandable, but the beneficiaries of The Global Fund’s work would disagree that foreign aid only benefits the rich. Further, donors like the World Bank mandate internal controls and interventions that make corruption less rampant and easier to find. In fact, The Global Fund’s own investigators pinpointed the $32 million of misused funds in their programmatic work, which is only a 0.3% rate of lost monies on $13 billion of disbursed grants. The possibility of theft is a reason to include parallel accountability measures such as those prescribed by President Bush, not to deny the poor life-saving interventions.
In addition, corruption is a leading cause behind a country’s stagnant growth and destabilization. Investing in a nation’s internal stability pays direct dividends to U.S. national security. This is lost on GOP candidates who prefer war mongering over a sophisticated use of 21st century diplomatic tools.
David Solimini of the Truman National Security Project explains, “America’s power relies on more than our military might. Foreign aid makes the world safe and stable for America, ensuring that problems overseas stay small and stay over there. America should never hand all of the power and influence that comes with foreign aid to China as Mitt Romney suggests. From the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift, to building schools in Afghanistan and vaccinating children in Africa, foreign aid has made America respected as the world’s great power.”
If the GOP is serious about maintaining U.S. leadership in the world, they need to participate in multilateral aid mechanisms like The Global Fund. More importantly, to win over the American people — and private philanthropists like Gates — they should understand that helping poor nations is a strong value to which citizens adhere. Without this clarity, they not only risk losing votes but also compromising our national security.
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