Paying for “Prestige” (Updated with a Footnote)

Rosa Brooks, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times wrote the following opinion piece entitled:  “To the rest of the world, we’re cheapskates” (Guess who the “cheapskates” are)

…I want to talk about the federal international affairs budget. (We columnists are a sneaky lot.) Let me tell you why you should care about the international affairs budget, a budget so unloved and obscure that you will search The Times archives in vain for a single reference to it — other than this one.

……The international affairs budget funds all U.S. foreign affairs spending. It funds the State Department, for instance, and the Peace Corps and exchange programs that allow U.S. students to study overseas. It funds U.S. contributions to peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, and it funds all our foreign assistance to developing countries: food aid, disaster relief, agricultural assistance, military training, democracy assistance, polio vaccinations, AIDS prevention and everything else you can think of.

“Hmm,” you’re probably thinking. “The international affairs budget may be unloved, but I’ll bet it’s huge, because that’s a lot of stuff to fund.” If you suspect that it’s a huge budget, you’re not alone. Americans have a long tradition of suspecting that we have a huge foreign aid budget. In 1997, 64% of Americans told pollsters that they thought our foreign aid budget was probably the single largest area of federal expenditures, higher than spending on the military, Social Security or Medicaid. In 2001, another poll asked Americans to estimate the percentage of federal spending that goes to foreign aid, and more than half the respondents guessed that foreign aid accounts for about 20% of the annual federal budget.

In fact, the international affairs budget is a 98-pound weakling of a budget, a puny thing that regularly gets sand kicked in its face by the big bruisers over at the Defense Department. Weighing in at $36.5 billion for fiscal year 2008, the international affairs budget annually accounts for only about 1% of total federal expenditures. It’s dwarfed by the Defense Department’s 2008 budget request ($481.4 billion for baseline funding, plus another $141.7 billion for GWOT, a.k.a. the global war on terror). And those figures don’t even count the cost of the war in Iraq, which has been financed almost entirely through a series of “emergency” supplemental funding requests, to the tune of roughly $100 billion a year.

Yet the international affairs budget is a crucial part of our national security spending. Societies racked by conflict, poverty, injustice, famine and disease make ineffective allies. They may provide havens for terrorists and global criminal enterprises. They offer prime recruiting ground for extremist groups. In our interconnected world, the money we spend on international affairs is money invested in our long-term prosperity and security.

And the rest of the world has taken note. In January, a BBC poll found that around the globe, only 29% of people now think that the U.S. has a “mainly positive influence in world affairs,” while 52% considered our influence “mainly negative.”

Well, bring out the violins and Kleenex.

I just love the pretentious acumen of the blame America for everything coalition; just placate and pay extortion money to the world’s anti-U.S. malcontents and we’ll have peace, love, and Kumbaya. What she selectively forgets is that this country is the most generous philanthropic entity on the planet. We bailed out Mexico to the tune of 50 billion dollars, only to see the customary refusal of a third world cesspool to modernize. We spend billions on taxpayer funded relief efforts in Africa, Indonesia and Asia. We’ve been throwing money at “developing countries” for decades without proper accountability and they’ve yet to develop into civilized nations.

Impoverished societies are a breeding ground for terrorists and other extremists because of several factors, not the least of which is the unwillingness to affect change. No birth control, no disease control, no personal responsibility, no infrastructure, but there’s plenty of war lords and pigs at the trough.

In the words of the African economist, James Shikwati:

“When aid money keeps coming, all our policy makers do is strategize on how to get more. They forget about getting their own people working to solve these very basic problems. In Africa, we look to outsiders to solve our problems, making the victim not take responsibility to change.”

Remember Bob Geldof’s Live Aid fiasco in 1985? All that wailing and angst on the part of Michael Jackson, Bono, Sting, et al, and who really got fed? Between the former Soviet-backed Ethiopian government that prevented food distribution and the money stolen by the kleptocratic despots, that benefit concert and those that followed were nothing short of a boondoggle.

In the view of the BBC-instigated poll of the “rest of the world” we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. It’s taken for granted that since we are the richest, most powerful country in the world, we are supposed to support, bailout, feed, clothe, and babysit the earth community. For our largess, we are vilified by our so-called allies and hated by Islamofascist jihadists for “influencing” (read: capitalist enterprises that bring cash flow into otherwise destitute areas) and informed by a Georgetown professor that whatever we do is not enough.

I happen to be a recipient of the military spending about which Rosa grumbles. Though our salaries were never commensurate with our hazardous duties and responsibilities, at least we knew that sufficient dollars were going to support the mission. Newsflash professor: any wartime Congress in its right mind funds as much as necessary for troops including weapons, equipment, uniforms, protective vests, ammunition, logistics, rations, operational bases, and barracks facilities.

I understand quite well that where there’s money there’s waste, but if you’re fretting about the ratio of military spending as opposed to foreign aid, as a former Soldier, I’ll take the billions spent on the U.S. armed forces over being a welfare cash cow for perpetual “underdeveloped” countries.

Some of that generousity is landing in the wrong hands:

WASHINGTON – The agency that distributes billions of dollars in American foreign aid cannot “reasonably ensure” that its money does not wind up in terrorist hands, an internal audit has concluded.

The United States Agency for International Development funded groups with ties to terrorism on at least two occasions, the agency’s inspector general found in an audit. That included approving $180,000 for a Bosnian group whose president was on a “watch list” that barred him from entering the United States, and $1 million for an aid “partner” who later pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his involvement with a disciple of Osama bin Laden.

Officials cut off the funding in both instances after the terrorist affiliations were discovered.

“Although it conducts programs in countries where terrorism is a major concern,” the audit warned, “USAID has not developed or instituted a worldwide anti-terrorism program. . . . USAID risks providing funding or other material support and resources to terrorists or terrorist organizations.”

Agency officials said that their system to screen grant recipients for terrorist links is “very comprehensive” and that they are looking at ways to strengthen it.

“We have reviewed the (inspector general’s) report,” said David Snider, a USAID spokesman, “and we are taking it very seriously.”

The audit, obtained by the Chicago Tribune, is dated Nov. 6 and marked “sensitive but unclassified.” It has not been released to the public. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., asked USAID officials to conduct it earlier this year, following a news report that the agency gave $140,000 to a university linked to Hamas, the Palestinian group labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S.

On Thursday, Kirk said the audit “raises serious questions as to the integrity of U.S. taxpayer assistance” in foreign countries. He attributed the lack of anti-terrorist controls to “either incompetence or bureaucratic neglect” and said he was “keenly disappointed” in the Bush administration for allowing it to occur.

USAID handed out $10 billion in 2005, making it the largest arm of the nation’s $27 billion foreign aid operation. Federal law requires government officials to deny terror organizations access to that money. One of the best tools for doing that is “vetting,” the process of checking grant recipients’ identities against information in terrorist databases maintained by intelligence agencies.

……The issue boiled over on Capitol Hill in March, when the Washington Times revealed that USAID had supported the Hamas-linked Islamic University, where Palestinian security forces had recently arrested five Iranians who were allegedly making rockets and explosives. The aid was given in spite of what a State Department spokesman called the “careful vetting process” used by the USAID’s West Bank and Gaza operation.

Just wonderful. Not only is our tax money bring thrown down the toilet for “developing” cesspools, but the Islamic terrorists got a cut.

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