At a time when financial belt-tightening is the order of the day — regardless of whether at home or the State Department — how could foreign aid advocates convince the American public that providing humanitarian and economic assistance to developing countries is to their best interests?
Former U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios shared his thoughts on the challenge in a speech he delivered Dec. 7 at the Society for International Development-Washington’s 2011 gala dinner. While Natsios admits “there are certain things I don’t agree with about the current direction of US foreign assistance,” he is concerned the American public remains unconvinced “US engagement through development and humanitarian assistance programs matters to them.”
So what should be done? First, Natsios says, advocates must understand the “language and values that resonate throughout the United States” and tap that knowledge in delivering their message. It is not ignorance of the statistics, for instance, that makes the American public think the United States allocates a high percentage of the federal budget for foreign aid, but “because they don’t much like it.” With that in mind, harping on how foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of federal spending is “at best a defensive strategy.”
Natsios offers the following “enlightened” arguments for the U.S. foreign aid program:
Aid programs create an “international economic order” that fosters a favorable environment for American businesses to compete overseas.
Aid programs help failed states — a threat to American national security — rebuild and not fall into the hands of terrorist networks.
Humanitarian assistance helps elevate the international community’s perception of the country and is a “powerful tool of public diplomacy.”
USAID’s health programs help stem pandemics of communicable diseases.
USAID’s democracy and good governance programs strengthen capacity building and ensure accountability in emerging democracies. “America would be safer … in a world of mature democracies.”
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