Dick Morris gets it wrong on America’s foreign aid

The commitments and obligations we make, as a nation, to our own citizens and to those in other parts of the world have to be scrutinized with the utmost seriousness. 

I have a fundamental belief that America is a blessed nation, and with those blessings come important responsibilities — both in protecting our citizens here at home and responding to humanitarian needs in other parts of the world. 

That’s why recent comments by my friend Dick Morris (“Cut foreign aid budget now,” March 29) are both disappointing and unhelpful to the budget debate.

His recommendation to GOP members is that if “a government shutdown looms, just shut down the foreign aid budget.” 

Americans tend to believe that the portion of the federal budget going to foreign aid programs is about 20 percent — and that it’s too much, especially in times of economic distress. Were that true, I would be the first to agree. 

However, the facts are that the actual percentage is less than 1 percent.

The American people are generous, and they recognize the unique role America plays in the world. I’m a firm believer in American Exceptionalism, and the idea that an investment of our precious resources in bettering the lives of those in the world looking for hope and a future for their children is an investment in global peace and security.

As a father, I try to put myself in the lives of those in other nations who are simply struggling to stay alive. And when I do, I envision a life having to live on less than $2 a day.

A life in which the AIDS pandemic had decimated half of my village, and I despair that my children will soon be orphans.

Or, a life in which I fear that a mosquito will feed on my children while they sleep, infecting them with the deadly nightmare of malaria.

I imagine no clean water or food — and my children and others, sick and dying from diarrhea.

Then, I imagine a nation with the power to provide medicines to treat AIDS and bed nets to protect families.

A nation with the power to provide wells for clean water so that for the first time in the lives of every villager, they have water to drink that is clear and clean.

Ten years ago, people in sub-Saharan Africa were living that first scenario, and couldn’t imagine the second. America was a far-away concept, eliciting, at best, ambivalence. That was until the people of the United States of America acted on their conviction that the lives of children in Africa also had meaning. 

To give life and hope to millions is to engender the friendship of millions. As revolutions unfold across North Africa, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would love for the United States to abandon its friends in the south, leaving these poor populations angry, afraid and ripe for the picking by terror groups and tyrants. 

Programs to fight AIDS and malaria were initiated under President George W. Bush. In the Senate, I was part of a broad bipartisan group voting to enact them. And today, nowhere in the world is America as popular as on that continent.

Americans, then and now, understand the humanitarian connection to our own security.

President Bush recently made that clear. “I was acting on national security concerns,” he said. “There’s nothing more hopeless than for a child to watch mom and dad die of AIDS and nobody helped … the enemy we face can only recruit when they find hopeless people.”

Congress has tough and unenviable budget decisions to make.

I have been consistent in my calls for balancing the federal budget, and reducing the cost of government in the United States.

In order to accomplish this, we have a duty to be serious about the recommendations we make, and the impact of those choices.

Accepting the idea that we should simply disengage from the world and make politically easy choices by eliminating foreign aid may seem like “low hanging fruit.”

But, it would be fruit from the poisonous tree, decimating the hopes and dreams of moms and dads in some of the most desperate places in the world.

That’s not the American way. And, it’s not the way America should be.

Coleman, a former Republican senator from Minnesota, is CEO of the American Action Network.