News of the Day

March 23, 2011 By Melissa Silverman

Who’s In the News

Aid to the Poor: by the Numbers (Anne C. Richard, Will and the Wallet)

Congress is out to cut foreign aid, but the public doesn’t necessarily agree.  Pollsters find that when we Americans learn about specific aid programs, we support them.   When we hear clear details, we favor aid programs guaranteed to save lives.  But Congress keeps acting on the desires of a misinformed public rather than on the basis of reality.  They should look at the facts.

Smart Power

U.S. to give $20 million to help Tunisia’s fledgling democracy (Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post)

The State Department announced Tuesday that it will give $20 million to Tunisia to help build its new democracy, boosting to more than $170 million the total in assistance for Arab countries that recently overthrew authoritarian leaders. The money will provide training and expertise on how to operate a free press, create political parties, set up fair and open elections and the like, officials said. Some of it will also go toward helping Tunisia’s battered economy. The funds are from unspent money appropriated by Congress for other purposes, officials said. The money for Tunisia will be distributed through the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a program begun by the George W. Bush administration that works with local nongovernmental groups to encourage democracy in the region.

How to Win Afghanistan? Nation Building. (Paul Miller, Foreign Policy)

But then Petraeus came out with that bombshell about funding for civilians near the end of his testimony.  He could not have been more stark.  We will lose the war in Afghanistan unless we pony up more money for our civilian efforts-which is to say, for nation building. Nation building, as I’ve argued earlier, is not international charity.  It is not a superfluous and dispensable exercise in appeasing western guilt, an expensive tribute to humanitarianism, or an act of unvarnished selflessness and goodwill.  Nation building is a response to the threat of failed states that threaten regional stability.  It is a pragmatic exercise of hard power to protect vital national interests.  In the context of Afghanistan, nation building is the civilian side of counterinsurgency, the primary objective of which is to “foster the development of effective governance by a legitimate government,” according to the Counterinsurgency Field Manual Petraeus wrote.

Politics and Foreign Policy

Obama’s Latin American trip adds to his mulitlateral approach (Christian Science Monitor)

In a key speech in Chile yesterday, the president emphasized the need for “shared responsibility” between the United States and countries south of the US border. “There’s so much Latin America can now share: how to build political parties and organize free elections, how to ensure peaceful transfers of power, how to navigate the winding paths of reform and reconciliation,” the president said. The urging fits with his two-year overture to rising powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China – known as the BRIC nations – for more security and economic burden sharing. Will his multilateral approach pay dividends? Latin America is not the same place it was even 10 years ago. It is more democratic. It depends less on foreign aid as it surges ahead with trade. The region’s natural resources have also caught the attention of China, which is aggressively increasing its trade and investment presence.

Fears for foreign aid after Afghan handover of control (Julius Cavendish, The Telegraph)

“Are you sure they are leaving? That’s not good. They help people, they make roads, clinics,” said Mohammad Nazuk Mir Chakaree, a 20-year-old graduate in Bamian, where a contingent from the New Zealand military is based. Bamian is desperately poor and many people live in caves. Leprosy is not unusual. The billions of dollars the country receives in international aid has mainly bypassed Bamian en route to provinces where the insurgency is stronger. “When the foreigners withdraw [we worry that] we’ll get even less support for development. I have met people who have said ‘Maybe they want us to take up arms’ so they get more development money.”

Microfinance Under Fire (David Bornstein, New York Times)

At Fixes, our focus is typically on implementing new or underutilized ideas to help those in need. But sometimes it’s just as important to protect institutions that are already working well. Which is why I’m writing today about the Grameen Bank, the Bangladeshi organization that won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, along with its founder Muhammad Yunus, for its work extending microloans to some of the world’s poorest, and has been crucial in global efforts to lift millions of people out of poverty. Both the bank and Yunus, have come under attack by the government of Bangladesh and its prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed.

Hopeful Message About the World’s Poorest (David Leonhardt, New York Times)

Life in much of Africa and in most of the impoverished world has improved at an unprecedented clip in recent decades, even if economic growth hasn’t. “The biggest success of development,” he writes, “has not been making people richer but, rather, has been making the things that really matter — things like health and education — cheaper and more widely available.” He is certainly right that people often overlook this progress and instead believe that global misery is intractable. “The strongest argument against a moral imperative to act,” as Mr. Kenny says, “is that we are powerless to make things better.” Clearly, we aren’t powerless. The real question is not whether foreign aid and local government programs can work — it’s which programs work and which do not.