President Obama’s 2010 budget seeks to double U.S. aid payments to other countries despite a $1.75 trillion deficit and the worst recession in over a quarter of a century.
Obama’s landmark proposal heralds a massive increase in the size of government, and “puts the United States on a path to double U.S. foreign assistance,” according to the White House budget overview.
That would mean annual U.S. foreign assistance expenditures at over $50 billion a year, although it’s not clear yet how quickly Obama intends to attain that goal.
The president also plans to rapidly expand the size of the State Department, in accordance with his strategy of substituting “soft” diplomatic power for the hard power of U.S. military might.
Assuming the Democratic-controlled Congress goes along, the State Department budget next year will jump about 10 percent, to $51.7 billion.
The increased funding would help pay for additional Foreign Service officers “to meet the challenges of today’s world,” Obama’s budget document says. This is in accord with his stated objective during the campaign of substituting “soft” diplomatic power for the hard power of U.S. military might.
Some policy experts are warning, however, that expanding assistance abroad may be a tough sell in the current economic climate.
“There’s going to have to be a strong case made that these investments have concrete, verifiable impact on people’s lives,” Stephen Morrison, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Global Health Policy Center, tells The New York Times.
Complete details of Obama’s foreign-policy budget won’t be released until April, so exactly how much aid the administration plans to dole out, and which countries will get it, remains unknown. Information released so far indicates Obama does not intend to let the downturn in the economy affect his campaign promise to double U.S. assistance to other nations.
Israel ($2.4 billion in 2008) and Egypt ($1.7 billion), the two signatories to the Camp David Accords, receive by far the most U.S. foreign aid. Other major recipients include Pakistan, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, and Mexico.
The White House overview says expanded foreign assistance “will help the world’s weakest states reduce poverty, combat global health threats, develop markets, govern peacefully, and expand democracy worldwide.”
Features of Obama’s plan to grease the wheels of diplomacy include:An estimated $8 billion increase in the annual outlay to the International Monetary Fund. Full funding for scheduled payments to the World Bank, plus “a portion of the outstanding arrears to reinforce the U.S. commitment to play a leadership in these institutions.”Increases non-military aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, to counter the resurgence of the Taliban. Increased funding, at an unspecified amount, for global health programs, including AIDS and family planning. Support for United Nations peace keeping activities, and a promise to meet financial commitments “to the United Nations and other international organizations that support a wide range of U.S. national security, foreign policy, and economic goals.”More funding for international programs on climate change, agriculture, and the Peace Corps.There will also be additional counterterrorism and anti-nuclear proliferation funding.
David Aaron Miller, public policy scholar for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, tells Newsmax he’s worried that America needs a more realistic image of its own power.
“We’ve seen what a decade of overreach can bring,” he says. “We have primary core interests. We need to define what they are, we need to protect them, but we cannot democratize the rest of the world.”
Miller, author of The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace, says America must “pick its spots” much more carefully, and invest money where there’s a realistic hope of success.
“We have a broken house in this country, and that house needs to be fixed,” says Miller, who served as a Middle East peace negotiator during the Clinton administration. “Barack Obama was not elected to be the war president and frankly he wasn’t elected to be a peace president. At a time when we’re presiding over the worst economic and financial crisis in 70 years, a crisis that could have profound social implications as well, we just need to understand what we can do in the world, and what we can’t.”
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