Magazine article Insight on the News

To Give or Not to Give?

Magazine article Insight on the News

To Give or Not to Give?

Article excerpt

Foreign aid is like opium," former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles once remarked. "There are withdrawal pains if you remove it." Republican deficit hawks are discovering that now. Their proposals for slashing the foreign-aid budget have prompted a storm of criticism not only from Democrats but also from some GOP lawmakers.

Bureaucrats who administer economic- and military-aid programs that have cost taxpayers $450 billion since the end of World War II are characterizing the budget-reduction proposal as a retreat from the world, one that threatens to plunge America into self-defeating isolationism. But Republican budget-cutters are not alone in questioning the effectiveness of cash diplomacy. Japanese politicians have become increasingly frustrated in their inability to sway the policies of several countries that benefit handsomely from Tokyo's development assistance, the major weapon in the country's foreign-policy armory. "Are there some things that money - even Japanese money - can't buy?" pondered the influential Nikkei Weekly newspaper recently. Tokyo repeatedly has warned China, India, Pakistan and Iran - Japan is the leading provider of foreign assistance to the first three - that the day is nearing when Japanese taxpayers will balk at pouring billions of yen into regimes that insist on maintaining or developing nuclear weapons.

The debate in America about the purpose and success of foreign aid, from government grants for economic development to direct military assistance - including what amounts to bribes for troublesome countries - has been bubbling all century. "Why send money abroad that we all admit we need here at home?" complained newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1915 when the hard-pressed British requested a billion-dollar war loan. Even in the aftermath of World War II, it took a considerable and clever lobbying effort from President Harty Truman to secure congressional backing for initiatives such as the Marshall Plan, which helped Europe recover from the ravages of war.

Will the world really fall apart if American largess declines? Is Uncle Sam being taken for Uncle Sucker by countries that should learn to stand on their own? Was Shakespeare wrong when he said of mercy, "It blesseth him that gives and him that takes"? …

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