Giving out foreign aid

Lawrence Haas

Lawrence Haas: We should finally retire the idea of "Arab exceptionalism" -- the belief that people in that region do not want democracy or are not ready for it.

Kai Ryssdal: Commentator Lawrence Haas.

Haas: They want it, they're ready for it, and we should help them get it. America has lots of ways to promote freedom and democracy, not the least of which is with foreign aid. These days, we spend upwards of $50 billion a year on foreign aid, which we send to more than 100 nations and to global institutions like the World Bank.

But, all too often, we use foreign aid to support dictators who may be our allies, but who are also very unpopular with their own people.

After World War II, we focused our foreign aid largely around the Cold War. We sent aid to support our allies and to help groups in other nations overthrow their communist leaders. We didn't worry much about the human rights records of those recipients, who included Latin American dictators.

Since September 11th, we have re-focused foreign aid largely around the war on terror. We have sent aid to nations that are fighting terrorists and to help groups overthrow governments that support terrorism. We don't worry much about the human rights record of, let's say, Pakistan.

Unfortunately, all of that puts us on the wrong side of our values -- the values of freedom and democracy. It also makes us the enemy of the very people we should be supporting. They include the brave students and labor leaders and journalists and opposition figures -- in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and elsewhere -- who are trying to bring democracy to their own countries.

We have to fight the war on terror, just like we had to fight the Cold War.

But the people of the Middle East want more freedom, and we can allocate more of our foreign aid budget to helping them get it. That will make the world a safer place, and make America a more secure nation.

Ryssdal: Lawrence Haas is senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington. Take a second to share your thoughts. Click on the contact link.

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I couldn't agree more with Mr. Haas regarding the use of foreign aid. Also, to those that think this is some sort of vindication of George W. Bush's policies in the region, it is quite the opposite. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, ongoing in Libya and Bahrain, show that freedom and democracy are a choice made by by the people of those countries, and cannot be forced upon them. Attempting to force democracy upon Iraq will be Mr. Bush's everlasting failure.

I like the idea (I hate how much of our aid goes to cleptocratic governments), but how can we keep giving aid if the governments block us from working in their countries when they see us undermining their ill gotten gains?

Specific proposals, please. Would the "People's Republic" of China qualify as a democracy? Would Venezuela? Would the "Democratic People's Republic" of North Korea count as a democracy to give foreign aid to? And I am almost certain that Israel---the most irrationally tolerant and unreasonably democratic state in the Middle East---would not. History shows that the Left, to which vast majorities of federal bureaucrats, our current president, most academics, and *far* too many members of Congress subscribe, and thus would be largely in charge of *implementing* this, loves every two-bit dictatorship that *calls* itself a republic or a democracy, but hates every sign of actual freedom, as the above comments quoted from Der Spiegel show.

Excellent opinion piece. For too many years the US has taken a very short sided view on foreign aid, propped up dictators and turned a blind eye to abuses and fraud. That has made us many enemies around the world and I think helped fuel the flames of extremists like al qaeda. Bottom line, as Mr. Haas points out, is that such an approach to aid is not in keeping with American values.

I'll defer to Mr. Fleischhauer of Der Spiegel (02/07/2011 04:12 PM)
"Democracy and the Middle East
George W. Bush's Liberal Legacy"
A Commentary by Jan Fleischhauer

Suddenly it seems everyone knew all along that President Mubarak was a villain and the US, who supported him until recently, was even worse. However it was actually former President George W. Bush who always believed in the democratization of the Muslim world and was broadly ridiculed by the Left for his convictions.

The West, it seems, is guilty. It is good to get that cleared up. Wherever there is an outpouring of public rage, as is happening now in the Arab world, censure must fall on America, the great Satan. The US is always in the dock. When indignation is required, one simply cannot go wrong by blaming the US. And Israel too of course, but only as a follow-up by those in enlightened circles who like to take history into consideration.

The current accusation is that the US supported the corrupt regime in Egypt and thus betrayed its values.

Aside from the fact that the Germans never have to resort to abandoning their principles because they do not play any significant role in foreign affairs, it must be said that this is, unfortunately, the way realpolitik operates. Whoever represents the interests of the free world cannot be too choosy about his allies or he could end up alone.

The free world has fewer friends outside Europe than it would care to admit. It would obviously be desirable to work exclusively with governments who share our democratic beliefs. That would only leave Israel in the region that we are currently watching with such fascination, as only Israel guarantees full, Western human rights to its citizens, including women, homosexuals and dissidents. But somehow that would also not be right.

A Shift in Liberal Sympathies

The sympathies of many honorable, left-thinking people do not currently lie with the Israelis, who grant the Arab inhabitants in their midst much more freedom than all the neighboring states combined. Astoundingly, their sympathies lie with the Muslim Brotherhood in the surrounding countries, a movement that hates homosexuals, keeps women covered and despises minorities. This is puzzling.

One would surely have been inclined to believe the accusations earlier if the outrage over Dictator Hosni Mubarak and his despotic regime had emerged before now.

There has not been one trace of a report about the dark side of the now-faltering Egyptian regime by the largest German TV stations, ARD and ZDF. And what exactly do they mean by "dictator"? Isn't the man still respectfully called "President Mubarak" in the German press, from the left-leaning Die Tageszeitung to the center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung? It seems that realization can come late in journalism as well, and all the more forcefully as a result.

Now there are demands for a value-driven foreign policy, which resolutely stands up for global human rights. That sounds good -- indeed, who could argue with such a policy? What is strange, however, is that the same people who are vehemently demanding more idealism were, until very recently, chastising the US for turning away from the principles of realpolitik.

Bush's Belief in Islamic Democratization

Painful as it may be to admit, it was the despised former US President George W. Bush who believed in the democratization of the Muslim world and incurred the scorn and mockery of the Left for his conviction.

Everyone was sure -- without knowing any Muslims -- that the Western model of democracy could not be applied in a backward society like Iraq. Everyone knew that the neo-conservative belief in the universal desire for freedom and progress was naïve nonsense. It is possible that the critics were right, albeit for the wrong reasons. The prospect of stability and order seems to be at least as important to many people.

We can only hope that the desire for freedom will triumph in the end. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood have also put the blame on the US and Israel, though in the reverse order. To them, Mubarak is a "Zionist agent" and should therefore be destroyed like the Zionists; next in line are the "helpers" from the US.

As for the actual revolution, it appears that the Arab youth are not taking to the streets to burn US flags and call for the death of Israel, but to overthrow their own government.

It remains to be seen how long that continues.
URL: www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,743994,00.html

Jan Fleischhauer is ajournalist and the author of the best selling book "Unter Linken. Von einem, der aus Versehen konservativ wurde" (Among Liberals: How to Become a Conservative by Accident). The book has only been published in German, but you can read an English-language excerpt on SPIEGELONLINE. "Among Liberals" examines the rise of the left wing from a protest movement to a culturally dominant group. Fleischhauer worked for SPIEGEL in Leipzig after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and then in Berlin and New York, where he served for four years as SPIEGEL's economics correspondent. He has covered national politics in Berlin since 2005.

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