Jim Antle reports on Mitt Romney’s comments on foreign aid last night:
Romney replied that this wasn’t the time to “walk way from Pakistan,” but did go on to say “as we send support for them, that this is tied to them making progress on — on matters that would lead them to becoming a civil society.” Some of Romney’s aid comments may have reflected his desire to find a middle ground between the foreign policies of Obama and George W. Bush. But he did step in the middle of a policy dispute that divides his party.
The Republican challenger also called foreign aid a potential “pathway” to “get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own.”
Jim is right that Romney’s comments have more to do with drawing a nominal distinction between himself and Obama. Nevertheless he seems to misunderstand the purpose of aid to Pakistan, which is primarily about maintaining some measure of diplomatic leverage over a perennially unstable nuclear power, rather than democratic evangelism or promoting humanitarianism. Here are a few facts, for context:
Since 9/11 Pakistan has received a little more than $25 billion in military and nonmilitary aid, according to the Congressional Research Service. Last year they received $3.5 billion, about 1.7 percent of Pakistan’s GDP, slightly down from the 2010 high-water mark of $4.4 billion. In 2014 the $1.5 billion in annual nonmilitary aid allocated by John Kerry and Richard Lugar’s 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act runs out.
That aid program was already conditioned by the certification of certain things, among them democratic reforms and the assurance that the aid can be effectively disbursed, which is decidedly not a given. In September, Secretary of State Clinton waived those in the interest of national security (something Bush did multiple times during his presidency).
So even if there were reason to believe that foreign aid can act as a sort of carrot to incentivize democratic reforms or free speech protections or whatever Romney’s idea of civil society is, there’s an unbroken bipartisan history of waiving such conditions.