Development Takes Center Stage At Debate

November 23, 2011 By John Glenn

At last night’s Republican presidential debate on foreign policy, Paul Wolfowitz, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, put the candidates on the spot on development assistance. After last week’s floating of “zero-based” foreign assistance (and the media buzz that followed), it wasn’t clear what direction the debate would take, but, there was no repeat performance challenging foreign assistance.

Reminding them of the last Administration’s initiatives, Wolfowitz asked the candidates if they felt development assistance is still valuable in today’s economic climate, “Under George W. Bush, who was a conservative Republican, the United States spent billions of dollars to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa and elsewhere and set up the Millennium Challenge Corporation to encourage governments of poor countries to pursue policies that promote economic growth and job creation. Do you believe those are still wise expenditures? Or do you think we can no longer afford them?”

CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer turned first to Rick Santorum, who replied, “I hear people up here talking abut zeroing out foreign aid and humanitarian aid in particular. I think that’s absolutely the wrong course.” He added, “We have done more good for America in Africa and in the third world by the things that we’ve done. And we have saved money and saved military deployments by wisely spending that money not on our enemies but on folks who can and will be our friends.”

Blitzer also asked Herman Cain and Ron Paul for their views, but they took a different tack. Cain was neutral and non-specific, “It may be worthwhile to continue. It may not. I would like to see the results.” And Ron Paul stayed consistent in his opposition, “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 poor countries.” A few moments later, Newt Gingrich added that he supported helping “people even more effectively and at a much lower cost by having public/private partnerships.”

Foreign assistance appeared at one other moment earlier in the debate, when Michele Bachman challenged Rick Perry’s call to end aid to Pakistan. Bachman said the threat of nuclear proliferation meant the United States could not afford not to be present in Pakistan, prompting Governor Perry to clarify, “absolutely we need to be engaged in that part of the world.”

Debate season isn’t over yet. For updated information on the candidates’ views on U.S. global leadership and diplomacy and development, visit USGLC’s Candidates Corner.