GOP presidential contenders and their views on US foreign aid

GOP presidential candidates from left to right, top to bottom: Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Jon Huntsman. Photo by: Gage Skidmore, Roger H. Goun, and Natalie Behring

The 2012 U.S. presidential race is on. And tonight, Sept. 7, Republicans eyeing to unseat Barack Obama face off in what is billed as a coming-out for the conservatives’ new darling, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

For those Devex readers who, like me, are not American, or haven’t been following the campaign season closely yet, it’s important to point out that it’s not a far-fetched notion that the Republicans could take back the White House. The GOP re-claimed the House of Representatives in last year’s midterm elections, with the help of the tea party movement, which remains engaged in these presidential primaries.

Also, Obama is polling badly right now: The latest Rasmussen poll (Sept. 7) shows only 22 percent of U.S. voters strongly approve of the way he is performing, while 44 percent strongly disapprove. A week earlier, Obama, for the first time, trailed a Republican — Perry — in a national election survey.

The official Republican presidential candidate will not be known until the GOP convention in late August 2012, which will take place in Tampa Bay, Fla. Before that will be a series of primaries and caucuses across the country’s 50 states starting early next year.

Republicans, overall, have been less than supportive of foreign aid than the Obama administration. But what about the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls?

Of all the declared candidates, only Mitt Romney has made foreign policy a key issue of his campaign. The rest sometimes reference diplomacy and international assistance when talking about national security.

Here are the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 — including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has not announced her candidacy — and their track record on foreign affairs and aid. We’ll be watching the debate, and the rest of the campaign season, closely and update our members as more details about the candidates’ views about foreign aid emerge.

Rick Perry Governor of Texas Campaign website:

Statement relating to foreign policy and aid:

“Perry believes in American exceptionalism, and rejects the notion our president should apologize for our country but instead believes allies and adversaries alike must know that America seeks peace from a position of strength. We must strengthen our diplomatic relationships, and stand firm with our allies against our common enemies.”

Track record:

Michele Bachmann Representative from Minnesota Campaign website:

Statement relating to foreign policy and aid:

“As commander-in-chief, I will do whatever it takes to fulfill the federal government’s foremost responsibility under the Constitution: to keep you safe in an increasingly dangerous world. I will uphold America’s values by standing shoulder-to shoulder with those who share those values and our interests and standing tall against those who don’t. I will devote the resources necessary to maintain our fighting forces as second-to-none, while being judicious in the use of our power. I will ensure our borders are fully secured. And I will not rest until the war on terror is won.”

Track record:

  • In Congress, voted in favor of the fiscal 2010 State and foreign operations bill in July 2009 but has since consistently voted against appropriations and authorizations relating to foreign aid, including for operations in Afghanistan, supplemental funding for the State Department, USAID and other international aid operations, and additional contributions to the International Monetary Fund.

  • Voted against a 2008 proposal to reauthorize the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, saying: “The United States is the most generous nation on earth. We have to have a balancing act between our benevolence and our prosperity. And our prosperity today is at risk. We will not survive if our benevolence allows the treasury to not only be empty — but to have us be a debtor nation greater than we have ever been before.”

  • Cosponsored bills prohibiting U.S. contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as U.S. assistance to foreign countries that oppose U.S. position in the United Nations, ensuring accountability for U.S. taxpayers’ humanitarian assistance for Palestinian refugees, and restricting aid to foreign organizations that perform or actively promote abortions.

Mitt Romney Businessman and former governor of Massachusetts Campaign website:

Statement relating to foreign policy and aid:

“The United States faces numerous challenges abroad. China is emerging, Russia is resurgent, and radical, violent jihadists seek our destruction. We must rise to these challenges to preserve our interests and promote peace. Mitt Romney believes that peace and prosperity around the world depend on a strong America. That requires a strong military, a strong economy, and a renewed diplomatic strategy that advances the cause of freedom, human rights, and opportunity.”

Notable statements:

  • On foreign aid: “I look at foreign aid through this lens: Does it make America stronger?”

  • On a Marshall Plan for the Middle East: “I would envision that the Summit [for the Middle East] would lead to the creation of a Partnership for Prosperity and Progress, a new type of Marshall Plan. This partnership would assemble resources from developed nations to work to assure that threatened Islamic states had public schools, not Wahhabi madrassas, micro credit and banking, the rule of law, human rights, basic healthcare, and competitive economic policies. The resources would be drawn from public and private institutions, and from volunteers and NGOs. And policies would favor expansion of free trade and investment.”

  • On diplomacy: “For every region, one civilian leader should have authority over and responsibility for all the relevant agencies and departments, similar to the single military commander who heads U.S. Central Command. These new leaders should be heavy hitters, with names that are recognized around the world. They should have independent objectives, budgets, and oversight. Their performance should be evaluated according to their success in promoting America’s political, military, diplomatic, and economic interests in their respective regions and building the foundations of freedom, democracy, security, and peace.”

Track record:

  • Has criticized current aid structures for failing to capitalize on the value per dollar of foreign aid.

  • Advocates eliminating funding to international organizations such as the United Nations, as well as non-governmental organizations that fund abortion services.

Jon Huntsman Former U.S. ambassador to China and Singapore and former governor of Utah Campaign website:

Statement relating to foreign policy and aid:

“It’s not that we wish to disengage from the world, don’t get me wrong, but rather that we believe the best long-term national security strategy is rebuilding our core here at home.”

Other statements:

  • On Afghanistan: “If you can’t define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we’re wasting our money, and we’re wasting our strategic resources. It’s a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it’s now or years from now, we’ll have an incendiary situation… Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don’t think that serves our strategic interests.”

  • On Pakistan: “We have to be very, very careful about aid money going into Pakistan … It’s a very, very difficult problem, and one where you could imagine someone like a Musharraf-type leader emerging once again.”

Track record:

  • Considered to have the most foreign policy experience among Republican presidential contenders because of his service as ambassador to China and Singapore.

  • Supported House Speaker John Boehner’s initial debt ceiling plan, which called for $915 billion in spending cuts, including for foreign aid, over the next 10 years. The proposal was later rejected by congressional lawmakers.

Newt Gingrich Political analyst and former speaker of the House of Representatives Campaign website:

Statement relating to foreign policy and aid:

“Think big. America currently lacks a unified grand strategy for defeating radical Islamism. The result is that we currently view Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other danger spots of the globe as if they are isolated, independent situations. Only a grand strategy for marginalizing, isolating, and defeating radical Islamists across the world will lead to victory.”

Other statements:

  • On Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Arab world: “We are told we have to be in Afghanistan, which is a country which is deeply corrupt and deeply tribal. Yet we are not investing enough in order to modernize it. Well, in order to be there, you have to have Pakistan’s support — and they are clearly doing a number of things that are not supportive. So you end up with policy in which the secondary theater, Afghanistan, blocks you from thinking clearly about the primary theaters — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan.”

Track record:

  • Strongly supports increasing the State Department’s personnel and capacity, believing that “the work that began under Secretary Rice — who really began to systematically think about modernizing the State Department — and has been continued under Secretary Clinton is very, very important.”

  • Supports spending cuts but has not suggested that USAID or the State Department bear them disproportionately, and his record indicates he views foreign aid as an effective power-building tool.

  • Endorses a foreign aid approach that maximizes U.S. power and national security, and has criticized the Obama administration’s cautious approach to foreign aid and politics, particularly regarding Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

  • In Congress, consistently voted to authorize funds for State and foreign operations programs in the mid-1990s but also consistently voted against U.S. involvement in international organizations such as the United Nations, voting “yes” on a 1995 bill to limit U.S. monetary and troop commitments to the global body.

  • Cosponsored bills amending the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to protect tropical forests and biological diversity in developing countries as well as requiring periodic assessments of U.S. aid impact and effectiveness.

Sarah Palin Former governor of Alaska

Track record:

  • Supports cutting foreign aid within the context of cutting the entire federal budget. Believes in at least moderate cuts to foreign aid where the aid “isn’t doing any good.”

  • Toured Haiti in December of 2010, spent time with the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse, and has applauded USAID’s work in the region, but offered few if any policy recommendations after her visit. Told reporters in Haiti: “A U.S. military airlift of supplies may be needed to help Haitians survive the deadly cholera outbreak.”

  • Supports foreign aid to Israel: “I’m sure there is some waste and fraud in foreign aid, and we need to find efficiencies, and not give to any regime that would seek to harm Americans in any sense of the word harm; I do not support that kind of aid at all. But when it comes to Israel, no, I stand strong with Israel and unapologetically I say that America should keep the strong democratic that we have there in the Middle East. And allow for protections around Israel.”

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Eliza Villarino wrote this article based on research conducted by Lauren Brander and Christina Valentiner.

About the author

  • Lauren Brander

    Lauren Brander is a former Devex project associate and special assistant to the president. Her research focused on development aid business opportunities in various sectors and regions of the globe, as well as financial controls and customer satisfaction.