Dumb power: Republicans introduce the “What wouldn’t Jesus do?” foreign-policy

As it turns out, my mother was wrong. Or was it Madison Avenue? (I always get the two confused.) You can get too much of a good thing.

Case in point: the Republican presidential debates. Admittedly, there is something oddly compelling about them. It's kind of like watching the middle-aged country club dining room version of the food fight from "Animal House." (Romney=Neidermeyer, Perry=Blutarski, Bachman=Mandy Pepperidge) But they're on more frequently than most infomercials and they contain even less intellectual substance.

Every so often however, I give in to temptation and tune in for a fix of comic mayhem. Last night, I settled in to watch the exchange regarding foreign-policy. I can't quite decide whether it was more embarrassing or frightening. The panderdates were crawling all over one another to declare their fierce opposition to foreign aid and their love for defense spending. Even Ron Paul, who as best as I can tell is for shrinking the entire government down until it can be run out of an abandoned Fotomat booth in a parking lot somewhere near Galveston, Texas and who thinks foreign aid carries the ebola virus, found the tiptoeing around the Pentagon pocketbook to be intellectually dishonest.

Here are the facts: We spend less than 1 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid. We spend roughly $50 billion a year on the entire State Department and the foreign aid budget. We spend about 11 times that on the Defense Department plus another three or so times that on "overseas contingency operations" like fighting wars and firing drones into various compounds and convoys and that sort of thing. (Let's not count the Veterans Administration or the Department of Homeland Security or the intelligence community in these budgets though they certainly might be thought of as part of our broader national security establishment.) As it happens we spend a smaller percentage of our GDP on aid than almost any developed country and we spend roughly 10 times on defense what the next biggest spender, China, pays out to defend itself. (Go get a pencil and figure how that works out in terms of per capita defense spending. It won't take you long.)

Cutting foreign aid drastically diminishes our influence. It also sends the message, articulated last night by the most "reasonable" Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, that we have made the decision as a society that the richest nation on earth doesn't feel any responsibility to help other countries with their humanitarian needs. For a bunch of candidates who seem hell-bent on proving their essential Christian-ness, that's a heck of a message for the richest family in town to be sending to those that are in need ... especially when it is the one clear way to support those who support our interests and expand good will toward America while supporting the stabilization of troubled regions. Whatever happened to those "what would Jesus do" wristbands? I'm certainly no expert but I'll tell you one thing, Jesus would not be cutting U.S. foreign aid.

As for cutting defense spending, where do you think Jesus would come out on that one ... especially if they taught any arithmetic in the Nazareth public school system of the Galileean Unified School District. Might he suggest that spending say, only eight times more than our next biggest rival was sufficient to maintain the peace and that we could use the extra $140 or so billion that saved us per year ... $1.5 trillion over a decade, to meet the budget cutting goals of the Supercommittee in one fell swoop? Might he note that there is no way to make the big cuts we need by chopping away at comparatively small programs? Or that somehow cutting the programs that help the rest of the world versus those that are designed to blow it up might send the wrong message?

Heck, it doesn't take being the Prince of Peace or a guy with a knack for stretching a budget (see the whole fishes and loaves thing) to recognize that this approach of eviscerating U.S. smart power while blindly protecting the brute sort is kind of dumb not to mention dangerous.

There is no path to American recovery that does not involve very significant defense spending cuts. Just like there is no path to recovery that does not involve rationalization of entitlement spending. And just as there is no way to where we need to be that doesn't require new sources of revenue. You've got to do all three. And while last night's food fight did indeed have all the low comic appeal of "Animal House" while bearing an uncanny resemblance, as "Morning Joe" noted, to a showdown among the Real Housewives of New York, it skirted reality like Lindsay Lohan dodging community service on her way to another night clubbing. But it did so by offering approaches that were grossly irresponsible and, on their face, should have disqualified each and every one espousing them from occupying any office with responsibility for America's economic or physical security.

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David Rothkopf

Africa: Climbing the charts with a bullet … or two (one magic, one more deadly)

Among members of the foreign-policy community, there has always been a hierarchy of interests. Security has always trumped economics except in times of great crisis. Once Soviet affairs topped the pecking order among regional specializations with the Middle East and European affairs nipping at its heels. Today, China and the Middle East top the list with Europe, Japan, and the other BRICs following behind.

Latin America and Africa have always been stepchildren awarded less top policymaker bandwidth, fewer high level missions, and drawing fewer of the really first tier rising talents of the policy community. Every so often, a regional issue would flair up -- often one associated with another region or global agenda item like spill from the Middle East to the Maghreb or fighting communists in Central America or the Caribbean -- and there would be a scramble, but on the whole, the continents were seen as backwaters, the place where the careers of average to below average diplomats and idealistic but self-marginalizing do-gooders would go to be ignored and then die, generally unlamented. I'm not saying it was right nor am I suggesting that much great and worthy work did not get done in these places.

More importantly, I am not saying that the hierarchy was correct. If it were created in terms of the scale of the human challenges being faced or the future problems being created, these regions would surely have moved up the list.

This week, we have seen a couple of stories that suggest that draw our attention to Africa, one that is a rare but potentially profoundly important positive development, one that is more ominous.

While the bright lights and attentions of big time foreign-policy beat reporters have been focused on the prisoner swap in the Middle East, Hillary Clinton's visit to Libya or the latest economic challenges being faced in Europe, almost certainly the most important story of the week in terms of world affairs was the news of a successful, large-scale test of a malaria vaccine. Malaria claims 800,000 lives a year, 90 percent of which are children in Africa. The vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, successfully prevented half of 6,000 babies tested from getting the disease over the course of a year. This could be a major breakthrough with profound economic and social consequences for the region -- literally millions of lives spared over the decade ahead and millions of more able contributors to society.

If this initial test leads to a viable, widely deployed vaccine, it could be transformational and would represent a watershed success for the global public health community -- for government programs and efforts of NGOs like the Gates Foundation -- and would be just the latest proof that the really big scale international policy wins are happening nowhere near the high profile discussions among many of the usual suspects of the international affairs community. If you are young and want to get involved in foreign-policy initiatives that will touch the most lives look to global public health, climate issues, resource related questions like those pertaining to water or food. These are where the great victories will be won even if they won't get you invited to the most think tank cocktail parties in Washington.

That said, it may well be that the subject on the tips of the tongues at those parties may soon be a different dimension of Africa. While the announcement this week that the United States was sending 100 armed advisors to Uganda to finally help snuff out the scourge that is Joseph Kony, commander of the "Lord's Resistance Army." Kony's brutal band has been responsible for the forced dislocation of millions, the impoundment of more than 65,000 children into his military service, and vast numbers of deaths. The Obama administration has, to its great credit, been targeting Kony with sanctions and other forms of international pressure and its decision to get involved in a more direct way here is welcome, especially given the great scale of the human tragedy associated with the wars of the past two decades in central Africa and the great shame associated with the comparatively minimal and ineffective involvement of the developed world in attempting to stop the violence.

But the intervention also comes shortly after the United States has announced new drone bases in Africa, after our intervention with our allies in Libya, and alongside much greater diplomatic and other involvement in the region associated with growing concerns about the presence of terrorist groups like al Qaeda not only in the horn of Africa but in places like Nigeria. There is much deeper concern about the potentially destabilizing effect of well-funded terrorist involvement in the churning, difficult to police, failed and failing states and regions across Africa's midsection.

Talk to top military brass involved in America's European command and they will tell you that they expect that in the future, Africa will be an ever-greater focus for U.S. and allied involvement for all these reasons and due to the growing resource competition that is taking place across the continent. It is becoming a more strategically valuable place and its chronic problems are opening it up to being the site of future conflicts that demand much greater attention from the United States than we have ever given it.

Add to that the turmoil in the strategically important countries of the Maghreb and the promise of greater economic growth on the continent should we actually successfully begin to manage some of the problems of disease that have impeded growth (as new infrastructure and access to technology empowers more effective education and job creation) and it seems clear that for both good reasons and bad, Africa's place in the hierarchy of interests among U.S. policy makers is likely to be rising for the foreseeable future.

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