Editorial: Humanitarian Assistance

In America’s Self-Interest

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans.

That was the message delivered last week by Nancy Lindborg, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the federal bureau that helps to spread democracy and humanitarian assistance across the world.

That world has reached a critical danger zone, with three high-level crises combining military conflict with humanitarian catastrophes affecting millions of innocents in Syria, the South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

But back to that child.

In the United States there is a Tea-Party-fueled isolationism sweeping the domestic political culture. It has caused many Republicans to seek massive cuts to the foreign aid budget, which — after you strip out diplomacy and military aid to foreign governments — accounts for less than 1 percent of federal spending. Last week, the House passed a budget authored by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that cuts the foreign aid budget by 11 percent. It would also cut spending on domestic programs. Fortunately it has no chance of being considered in the Senate.

Lindborg, who was speaking to a group of editorial writers as part of an annual State Department briefing sponsored by the Association of Opinion Journalists, argues that an America that continues to be the leading provider of humanitarian aid across the world is a stronger America, and she’s right.

“It matters that a kid in South Sudan is teetering on the brink of serious hunger,” Lindborg said. “It matters to us. There are economic and security repercussions if you have unchecked economic crises in the world.”

Consider Syria, for example. The civil war there has created an economic and humanitarian catastrophe as 2.6 million Syrian refugees have overwhelmed neighboring countries. Refugee camps are prime recruiting grounds for extremists. The resentment could eventually wash back to America’s shores in the form of terrorism fueled by massive and sustained poverty among all but the ruling class.

Whether in Syria or Sudan, much of the unrest is fueled by economic concerns, rooted in massive income inequality that is fomenting anger all across the world. The crisis in South Sudan has displaced more than 1 million people, with no end in sight to the violence and growing hunger needs. U.S. aid to the region is $411 million and counting.

Sadly, our nation seems more interested in tracking the daily effort to find a missing Malaysian airliner than in recognizing that political and climate disasters are creating a huge new class of poor, huddled masses yearning for help from the only country still big and strong enough to provide a blanket of hope.

“It is a precious thing that we have to offer the rest of the world,” Lindborg said. “And we need to safeguard it always.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch