A very important question was raised by a member of the audience about why we need foreign aid when there’s so much that needs to be done here at home. It’s a great question, and there’s a great answer for it, too: American leadership is needed in the world as never before, and our foreign assistance is essential a number of fronts from national security to growing our economy to demonstrating our values as a nation.
Our military leaders from General David Petraeus to former Defense Secretary Bob Gates have made it clear that to keep America safe in the world today, we need to have our civilian development and diplomacy operations working alongside our military. Business leaders from Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have let us know that our foreign assistance programs funded in the International Affairs Budget are essential to growing our domestic economy and creating jobs.
When I served as Ambassador to Tanzania, I saw personally how critical these programs are on the ground to promoting our interests in the world. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has not only saved 3.2 million lives, it has brought stability to countries spiraling into chaos and could have been the next Afghanistan. And efforts such as our Millennium Challenge Compacts are building new trading partners and markets for U.S. goods and services.
The unfortunate thing about debates is you have to speak in 30 second sound-bites, and sometimes the facts can get lost in translation. Earlier today The Weekly Standard pointed out a couple of facts like that our foreign assistance programs are only one percent of our entire budget and asked the question whether or not we really want China to “fill a void left by America abroad.”
So the answer to the question of foreign aid is that we cannot afford not to do it—it’s a strategic investment in our security and economy. I look forward to hearing more on this topic from all of the Republican presidential candidates on November 15, when CNN, AEI and the Heritage Foundation host a foreign policy-focused debate in Washington, D.C. We will all be watching.