Why the next election will determine the future of the USA in world politics

Two weeks ago the Republican Party hosted its second Presidential candidate Debate at the Regan Presidential Library. Whilst the debate touched on many important areas, the question of international development, and the United States role in humanitarian aid, and bilateral and multilateral development strategies was largely ignored. Here, William Kennedy discusses the different directions which may be taken regarding Foreign Aid and International Development as a result of next year’s General Election in the United States.

Foreign policy, with the exception of each candidate claiming they would be quickest to dear up the Iran nuclear deal, was rather a sideshow than a main topic. Foreign aid and international development were relegated to largely obsolete in the debate, a trend which has been carried forward from previous presidential cycles.

DonkeyHotey /Creative Commons License

DonkeyHotey/Creative Commons License


The major differences on foreign aid is spread not only between the two competing parties, but also between competing candidates in the same party. The surprisingly broad range of views between candidates shows a real divide, especially in the Republican Party, about how the United States should proceed with International development, in a world where the Sustainable Development Goals has broadened the horizon and scope of the international development agenda.

Donald Trump has been leading the pools for the Republican Party for many weeks now, and has championed US business, and sees developing nations as a threat to the US economy and jobs. In the past, Trump has continually argued for a decrease in America’s foreign aid budget, and the sending of aid to countries whom he does not identify as ‘friendly’. Whilst Mr. Trump has never been elected to office, so it is difficult to look at any concrete policy positions he may hold, he has in the past repeatedly attacked international organisations such as the World Bank for pushing climate change programmes and green energy as a way of helping alleviate poverty and climate effects on much of the development world.

This reduction to foreign aid is taken one step further by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has called for the eventual elimination of foreign aid, to all countries. Mr. Paul told CNN last year that ‘Ultimately, I think a country that’s $18 trillion in debt should not be borrowing money from China to send it to anyone’. In fact in a budget proposal in 2011, Paul recommended a straightforward solution to America’s debt burden, by ‘eliminating all international assistance’.

These are not accepted views, (thankfully), in the Republican Party. Other presidential candidates, such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee have all come out and backed, to different extents, the United States pro-development agenda. Going back to the last Presidential campaign in 2012, Huckabee railed against conservative shot sightedness on foreign aid cuts. He went on to stress that foreign aid was not only a strategic tool for the US to wield on the global stage, but that US ‘Christian principles’ made her bound to help developing nations. Huckabee implored that:

The simple reality is that every time America is making its presence known in any government across the world, it will be far more effective when it delivers bread than when it delivers bombs. And the next thing I think we ought to do, if we are the Christians we claim to be, is to want to make sure that we do not turn our backs on the suffering we see’.

This view that the US should be pushing for engagement and diplomacy with the developing world was crucial for future prosperity for both sides is further reinforced by candidates such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute back in 2013, the young senator proclaimed; ‘In most cases, the decisive use of diplomacy, foreign assistance and economic power are the most effective ways to achieve our interests and stop problems before they spiral into crises’.

Other prominent candidates in the Republican field, such as Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Chris Christie have yet to outline their vision for US international development plans, and have instead focused on domestic issues, which are more likely to catch the attention of the would be voter.

In the Democratic Party, the competition for nomination, barring any unexpected event, or the introduction of Vice President Joe Biden into the race, will likely see a two horse race against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and veteran Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders. The Democratic Party has a long tradition in implementing novel and ground breaking foreign aid initiatives, from President Kennedy establishing the Peace Corps to Jimmy Carter placing greater emphasis on the role of ‘Human Rights’ in the US government’s foreign policy and international development

Hilary Clinton’s commitment to aid has been unwavering in the best few decades. The Clinton foundation has recently been at the forefront of pushing women’s rights and education in the developing world through its No Ceilings project. The project is ‘convening global partners to build a data driven evaluation of the progress girls and women have made and the challenges to help chart the path forward to full participation in the 21st century’. Other initiatives that have been driven by the Clinton foundation include the support for local business after the Haiti earthquake and global initiatives such as the commitment to help eliminate avoidable blindness.

As a 30 year sitting senator, Bernie Sanders has voted on a raft of legislation concerning foreign aid and assistance and has voted in favour of the HR 5501 Bill, which was a $48 billion global fund for helping countries with HIV/AIDS, Malaria and tuberculosis. He also, in 2001, co-sponsored the Harvest for Hunger Bill, which aimed to reserve famine in Sub-Saharan Africa by supporting various relief strategies for a period of 10 years.

Foreign Aid or international development is never going to be a top tier issue that grabs national headlines in the race to be president. US politics is far too concerned with personalities and soundbites, especially when the election is a year away, to properly concentrate on important, concrete topics as well as a tendency to resort to isolationism when the going gets tough. However, with a host of different opinions, from a wide range of candidates, the topic of foreign aid is one of the most opinionated, and may well likely play a role in future debates, especially if Donald Trump keeps his polling momentum. On the left, a Clinton or Sanders presidency will likely see more importance being placed on international development in the coming years.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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