Resolving Policy Differences: Foreign
Aid and Human Rights
G. CALVIN MACKENZIE
Picture two giant sumo wrestlers, each powerful, experienced, and unrelenting. They battle round after round. One applies a hold to gain the advantage until the other develops a counterhold to reclaim control. These two giants know each other well, and they know their own strengths. Their power derives from self-respect and skill and the desire to represent their regions ably. When the end comes, the art of combat has been refined, but neither has vanquished the other. It is a draw. Nobody wins. They will have to fight again another day.
For almost two decades, Congress and the executive branch have fought in much the same way to determine the role that human rights concerns should play in foreign aid decisions. The advantage has shifted from branch to branch, as power energized counterpower, technique invited countertechnique. But neither branch has won, and the struggle continues.
Twenty years ago, one rarely heard human rights and foreign aid mentioned in the same hearing. Now they are often mentioned in the same breath. Human rights has moved to a place of prominence in foreign assistance policy, but it did not get there without much argument and distrust. Nor is the dust yet settled. The principle that foreign assistance decisions should address the human rights policies of recipient countries is embedded in statute, in bureaucratic organization, and in widely shared understandings and expectations. It is the law of the land. But the application and interpretation of the principle continue to generate debate and political struggle.
This case explores the transition in foreign assistance policy over the past two decades, focusing especially on the central contest between Congress and the executive branch over the role that human rights should play in the policy. The question here is not which branch won, for neither did, but how they fought and why. What role did Congress play in the transi