Friday, January 21, 2011
Foreign aid dilemmas
I've been a knee-jerk supporter of foreign aid ever since I first began studying U.S. foreign policy. It certainly made sense to me to send money instead of U.S. troops to solve problems. I've also seen the positive results of many of our programs, both in development and security. And -- full disclosure -- I once had a Fulbright grant paid for in local currencies received in repayment of loans from an earlier American aid program. But I'm having second thoughts now that I read about some of our problems in Afghanistan or today's WSJ piece on problems with our aid program in Pakistan. It's important for us to get these right, and to pick the right side of the various dilemmas any program faces, even when we can't be sure which is the wise course. We want to strengthen those governments but not the corruption that pervades them. We want them to improve their governance but not lose the war in the process. We want them to increase their own capacities, yet we also want things to happen and people to be helped now. So while I think it's dangerously short-sighted to cut our overall levels of aid, I wish we could be better about the actual programs we run.