Kyl's foreign-aid memo sets off debate on national generosity

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) issued a memo yesterday arguing that the United States leads the world in charitable giving, immediately setting off a debate about Americans’ generosity and the geopolitical implications of stinginess — real or perceived. A Senate Republican aide said the memo was meant to “set the record straight on the generosity of the American people,” which was recently called into question by a senior United Nations official over U.S. tsunami aid.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) issued a memo yesterday arguing that the United States leads the world in charitable giving, immediately setting off a debate about Americans’ generosity and the geopolitical implications of stinginess — real or perceived.

A Senate Republican aide said the memo was meant to “set the record straight on the generosity of the American people,” which was recently called into question by a senior United Nations official over U.S. tsunami aid.
Patrick G. Ryan
A GOP aide maintains that Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) memo simply points out that “the U.S. provides a lot of [military assistance] to a lot of countries.”


The aide added that the timing of the nine-page paper, “The Truth About U.S. Foreign Assistance,” is “a reflection of the administration’s new supplemental appropriations request as well as the FY ’06 budget request coming to the Hill.”

The timing of Kyl’s paper is also remarkable given that President Bush is spending the better part of the week in Europe, where he is being asked to pay more attention to foreign governments.

Kyl chairs the Republican Policy Committee.

“The United States is the world’s largest donor of official development assistance (ODA),” the paper states. “U.S. ODA disbursements increased from $10 billion in 2000 to $16 billion in 2003, and are estimated to have increased to $19 billion in 2004.”

The paper adds: “This number does not include the $18 billion in supplemental funding provided in October 2003 for reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Susan Rice, who served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1997 to 2001 and is now a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the paper distorts reality.

She criticized the paper’s inclusion of foreign military aid under total development assistance. “No relevant, informed standard would include military assistance,” Rice said.

The Republican aide countered that the memo simply intends to point out that “the U.S. provides a lot of [military assistance] to a lot of countries, and that most countries in the world don’t provide it.”

Rice added that the United States remains near the bottom when it comes to the foreign-aid standard agreed upon by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to which the United States belongs.

According to the OECD standard, she said, members should devote 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product to development assistance. The United States spends roughly 0.24 percent, Rice contended, adding that only certain Scandinavian governments have achieved the 0.7-percent mark.

A source familiar with U.S. foreign-aid policy buttressed Rice, adding that, by European standards — the same as the OECD’s — the United States is cheap. When viewed in terms of total dollars spent, however, U.S. aid dwarfs that of any other country, the source said.

Diplomats from Western European countries and Tony Gooch, spokesman for the European Commission’s delegation in Washington, have argued that the European Union’s foreign assistance makes it more generous than the United States.

An EU source said yesterday that in addition to EU assistance, member states also donate independently.

A spokesman for the House International Relations Committee countered that there are two major problems with EU giving: It is uncoordinated, coming from a 26-member coalition with a fragmented foreign policy, and the Europeans lack the capacity to deliver the assistance, the spokes-man said.

“We were the first on the ground in Banda Aceh because we have the capacity to get there,” the spokesman said, referring to the recent tsunami relief effort in Southeast Asia. “We have carrier battle groups, we have military assets that can be deployed for humanitarian purposes. Were it not for the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and its carrier battle groups, it would have taken weeks longer to deploy humanitarian assistance.

“Our friends tend to diminish the positive role played by a military, but our defense capabilities provide American leaders with far more flexibility in responding to humanitarian crises.”

The spokesman added that the U.S. Navy had helped combat piracy worldwide. In 2004, the spokesman said, there were more than 350 incidents of piracy in the Straits of Malacca alone, down almost 25 percent from 2003 because of the United States.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could not be reached for comment.

There has been growing consensus among Republicans and Democrats in recent years about foreign aid, said Edward Fox, assistant administrator for legislative and public affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Echoing Kyl’s memo, Fox pointed out that private American organizations give significantly — including nongovernmental organizations, corporate foundations and other charities. Last year, Fox said, private donors gave $34 billion.

Rice, of the Brookings Institution, argued that there is no substitute for a concerted government effort to help other nations. She added that the so-called generosity fight — determining who gives more — is critical when it comes to framing international opinion.

“We live on an increasingly shrinking planet, and if we want the cooperation of other peoples and other countries to help us combat the threats we perceive — whether terrorism, weapons of mass destruction or what have you — then we need to show we have an interest in helping other countries combat what threatens them,” Rice said. “In many instances, that’s poverty, disease and conflict.”