Man Without Qualities

Friday, December 20, 2002

The Long, Long Line at L'Idiot

Senator Patty Murray is in it:

"[Ossama Bin Laden]'s been out in these [third-world] countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that," Murray said. "How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"

Al Qaida has engaged in some Afghan infrastructure work - as noted in the linked article - but that's not the source of al Qaida's popularity on, say, the streets of Karachi. And Senator Murray knows that the United States - both through its government and its many private charities - has for many decades done each and every thing she lists at a scale that dwarfs by orders of magnitude anything bin Laden did on these fronts. The World Bank, for example, is largely funded by the United States and is very much in the third world infrastructure business, for example (although it's amazing that any examples are needed) here and here and here.

The Senator's suggestion that al Qaida has been building day care facilities is just bizarre. Does Senator Murray think that Afghan woman under the Taliban dropped their children off at al Qaida day care centers before work?

Buying the affection of Third World populations through foreign aid is a very old, difficult, often-tried and highly problematic effort. She trots it out as a new idea.

Senator Murray is no idiot. So why would she say such things?

She seems to be groping for some politically effective way to oppose the war on terrorism generally, by arguing that the money should be spent domestically:

For example, she told students, "You'll be graduating into a world that is very difficult. … The economy is struggling. War in Iraq is a very real possibility in the short term" and could cost $200 billion even if it were to last only a few weeks. The cost of waging war could result in cuts to domestic programs such as Pell grants for college students.

But even accepting the Senator's suggestions at face value, massive foreign aid also costs a lot of money - which also allows less to fund Pell grants and the like. Building roads and dams, for example, is not cheap. To finance meaningful infrastructure projects at a scale that would affect the opinions of a good number of the billions of Third World residents would be very expensive.

Further, such aid often (many would argue, "usually") does a lot more harm than good to the residents of the "aided" countries while enriching the local kleptocracy. Does the Senator imagine a road through, say, the Amazon rain forest is an obvious good that the United States should finance? How about the Three Gorges Dam in China? Criticism of infrastructure foreign aid is not confined to conservatives, but comes from many political directions.

Maybe someone should sit the Senator down and explain to her that foreign aid has to pass the approval of the local Third World government, which often is mugging the governed and doesn't care about environmental and social damage.

And even massive aid would probably not change Third World opinions very much, simply because even where aid does good there is no easy way to convince residents that the United States has done the building, a necessary precondition to affecting popular opinion.

The difficulty in effectively convincing people that United States aid has helped them should be obvious to Senator Murray, since she is herself ignoring past and present United States efforts in these very comments.

Links from DRUDGE.


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