The initial humanitarian response to the January 12 earthquake in Haiti has been impressive. Within weeks, Americans pledged over $500 million to the relief effort, almost equaling their response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It’s been estimated that half of all American families have donated to Haiti relief.
With U.S. funding, nongovernmental organizations have helped immunize millions of babies. Thanks to debt relief, most African children are in school, and in the last six years the number of people receiving HIV/AIDS medicines in developing countries has increased tenfold. Our country provides assistance through the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. But the world has changed dramatically since then. It's time for the U.S. to get smarter about how it delivers foreign aid.
When I was in southern Ethiopia in 1994, I watched truck after truck roll into a community with food aid. I asked a farmer if the harvest had been bad. He told me he had an abundant harvest of tomatoes and onions—cash crops. Because of all the food aid they were receiving, he could use his land to make some extra cash—and his family would eat wheat from America. That same year I could purchase corn oil at the local grocery store—in big metal containers labeled "A gift from the people of America." I resented having to pay for what was clearly intended to be food aid.
When Congress returns from its month-long vacation in September, President Bush will ask members to agree to a package of more than $63 billion in military aid and weapons to our “allies” in the Middle East. Why such generosity?
For several months Congress had been calling for President Bush to coordinate the work of security-oriented agencies spread throughout the executive branch. The president, who retains a 75 percent approval rating, resisted such a move.
The United States “has too much power for anyone’s good, including its own.” So argues Timothy Garton Ash, who observes that since the demise of the Soviet Union there is no countervailing force on the world scene to check the use of U.S. power. Economically, the U.S.’s “only rival is the European Union. In military power it has no rival.
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