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August 1, 2007
Gutting Good Will
The Senate Appropriations Committee has gutted a $3 billion request by the Bush Administration to fund one of the few foreign aid programs worth investing in:
The Millennium Challenge Corp. is grown-up foreign aid. Under this three-year-old program, a board certifies countries that are likely to use assistance wisely -- nations committed to democratic and free-market reform and fighting corruption -- and works with them as partners on projects to combat poverty and encourage economic growth. We rightly look at most foreign aid programs with the jaundiced eye of experience. Much of the aid we've sent to other nations via the World Bank or other institutions - including direct aid from taxpayers - has disappeared down the rabbit hole due to corruption and incompetent governmental policies.
Nations that backtrack on reform and good governance have their "compacts" cut off, causing humiliation and occasional repentance.
After a slow start, the MCC has made agreements with 13 nations. But at a recent breakfast, Ambassador John Danilovich, who heads the program, was in a state of dignified bewilderment. The Senate Appropriations Committee, demonstrating bipartisan shortsightedness, had just reduced funding for the MCC from the administration's $3 billion request to $1.2 billion, throwing future compacts into question.
"Why," he asked, "do they want to undermine a foreign policy lever which is actually working?" Danilovich was fresh from a meeting with America's traditional Nicaraguan nemesis, President Daniel Ortega. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez has been courting Ortega and his leftist Sandinista comrades with elaborate (and so far unfulfilled) promises of aid. But Danilovich found Ortega enthusiastic about Nicaragua's MCC compact, which helps increase the income of rural farmers.
The MCC is the main counterweight to Chávez's influence in that country, allowing America to maintain ties with the Nicaraguan people even as political relations with the government grow complicated.
Imagine a program that actually penalizes governments for being crooked or stupid. Outstanding!
A cut in funds of such size would impact our efforts in sub-Saharan Africa where American goodwill has made the American brand much respected. It would also impact our activities in Bolivia, a key ally in the war on drugs that currently has a hard left government making noises about joining Hugo Chavez in his dream of an Andean federation. Let's hope that the full Congress restores the cuts to one of the only programs that appears to make a difference in people's lives overseas.