Aid missing in foreign policy debate

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney during the second debate held Oct. 16. A third debate focused on foreign policy was held Oct. 23. Photo by: Scout Tufankjian / Obama for America / CC BY-NC-SA

In a foreign policy-focused U.S. presidential debate that the candidates attempted to steer toward domestic issues, development-related topics were largely left out. Republican candidate Mitt Romney did offer clues on his plans for aid to Pakistan, and President Barack Obama reiterated his priorities in the Middle East and North Africa.

“We’re going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move toward a more stable government and rebuild the relationship with us,” Romney said during the presidential debate held Oct. 22 in Florida. “And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met.”

Romney did not propose specific benchmarks. He did stress: U.S. aid to Pakistan should be tied to the country’s progress toward strengthening its civilian government.

Conditions on U.S. aid to Pakistan already exist. These include requirements that the Pakistani government agrees to meet certain goals, and that the U.S. president or secretaries of defense and state certify the aid is in the U.S. national and security interests.

Meanwhile, Obama maintained that his priorities, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa and in South Asia, continue to be on supporting economic development, capacity building, and the protection of women, religious minorities and indigenous people. The president also emphasized making sure these regions support U.S. counterterrorism efforts as well as the protection of Israel.

Throughout the debate, Romney and Obama exchanged views — most of the time, similar ones — on the U.S. role in the world and its policies on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Libya and China. Both candidates laced their arguments with plans for reviving the domestic economy.

The two did clash on defense spending, which Obama wants to maintain or reduce and which Romney is proposing to increase.

Topics like reductions to the U.S. foreign aid budget, climate change, and the direction of the overall U.S. development program were not discussed during the debate, which is the last on this year’s campaign trail. The Democratic and Republican parties’ campaign platforms do provide clues on their plans for international development. Further, Romney outlined a broad reform agenda for the U.S. aid program at last month’s Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.