US Foreign Policy: Missteps, Mistakes, and Broken Promises

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TOM DASCHLE is the former US Senate Democratic Leader. He currently holds a visiting professorship at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and serves as the Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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During your recent visit to Nepal you addressed the issue of governmental corruption. What steps do you believe the United States should take to fight corruption abroad?

Transparency is the key. The more the United States can be transparent, the more we can lead by example, then the more we can enforce everyone's views on the need for transparency. Aggressive oversight from the US Congress is vital to that effort. There has been universal disappointment with the lack of oversight from this Congress on the President's conduct of foreign policy, on the contracting process in Iraq, and on the exercise of power in the realm of intelligence and spending. We must hold people accountable when we do not have the kind of transparency our government demands. It is important for us to make transparency a higher priority at the ambassadorial level. The more we can make it a higher priority than we do today at the State Department level and at the non-governmental organization level, the more effective ultimately we will be.

What is your opinion of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which, as of February 2006, had identified only 23 eligible countries and approved MCA aid for only eight of those candidates?

The MCA has been a major disappointment. The President assured us that the funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) would not come at the expense of traditional foreign assistance accounts like development assistance and child survival assistance. In Washington budget speak, the MCC money was to be "new money." The funding has not been there. We are now taking money from child survival programs in some of the world's poorest countries and shifting it to the MCC. Congress has tried to rectify that. I have been particularly impressed with US Senator Dick Durbin, who has been very aggressive and helpful. The MCA is going to wither away unless it acquires the kind of investment that only the United States is capable of providing in terms of leadership.

Do you see a similar pattern in US funding for HIV/AIDS initiatives? US President George W. Bush promised US$10 billion to fight the epidemic over the course of five years. He will have to put forth US$6 billion in the next two years to meet that promise.

Yes. We have seen a lot of rhetorical support but no tangible, calculable support. That leads to a cynicism in many parts of the world, a cynicism that politicians keep giving the same story. I was reminded of that on a recent trip to Africa, where I met with government leaders in South Africa. The government of President Thabo Mbeki has not been as forthcoming on HTV/AIDS policy as it should be but whenever I pushed President Mbeki, he tried to turn the issue back on the United States. President Mbeki said that we do not match our promises with real dollars but instead leave African governments to make up the difference. We do not put forth the level of commitment and support and ultimate involvement that will be required to address this problem as comprehensively and successfully as we need to.

What steps can be taken to repair the US image abroad, to repair relationships with the UN and foreign allies?

It starts with personalities and being willing to listen to our friends. Former US President Bill Clinton does not have any trouble as he travels the world because people discern a distinct difference between him and his successor. That says a lot about what needs to be done. We need more people who took the view and implemented the policies of the Clinton administration. It would make a huge difference in terms of the perception of the United States.

Without a significant change in the operating structure of the Bush administration the United States is going to be faced with continued difficulty in mustering support for our policies and goals for the next three years notwithstanding the worthiness of the proposals. …