- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

Our perceptions of the world changed on September 11, but you would not have noticed it in President Bush's newly released foreign aid budget proposal.
The president's solution to the terrorist threat is to return to deficit spending and shift billions of dollars from domestic needs to the Defense Department and homeland security. While the Congress will debate the details and merits of these huge increases in the months ahead, we should also pay attention to what is missing from the president's priorities.
Glaringly absent is what many of his own advisers, as well as members of Congress and experienced former national security officials, have publicly urged a major increase in resources to improve the pitiful living conditions of more than a third of the world's people.
Less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget is for foreign assistance, with much of that going to military aid to two Middle East allies, Israel and Egypt, and to programs that help us sell American goods abroad. In per capita terms, most other industrialized nations long ago surpassed the minimal foreign aid effort mustered by the wealthiest nation the world has ever known.
Some say the American people do not want to send aid overseas. In fact, the public consistently supports increases to combat poverty. They understand the consequences of billions of people living in squalor, with no education, scavenging for food or, if lucky enough to have jobs, toiling under miserable conditions for a dollar or two a day.
These people who have no access to safe water, sanitation or health care, whose children often die in infancy, who have no hope of anything better in their lifetimes are easy prey for those who sow seeds of hatred and terror.
For years we have acted as if these conditions are of no consequence to our security, even as the world's population has outpaced the ability of many governments to provide the basic necessities of life.
September 11 should have changed our thinking forever.
In submitting his budget, the president himself promised to "defeat the terrorists by building an enduring prosperity that promises more opportunity and better lives for all the world's people." We had hoped to see those words reflected as a true national priority, in actual dollars, but his proposed $48 billion military increase, in a single year, is 10 times the amount we spend to combat poverty worldwide.
For the world's poorest 2 billion children, including in predominantly Muslim countries where free religious schools are often a breeding ground for fanaticism, the president's budget provides $150 million for education. We spend 6 times that amount on education for Vermont's 101,000 students. The president's budget provides $1.3 billion for health care for the world's poorest 3 billion people, barely half the amount we spend on health care for Vermont's 600,000 residents.
We struggle to find a few more millions to alleviate the suffering in refugee camps, which are fertile grounds for terrorist recruits. We argue about another $5 million or $10 million for micro loans to help the world's poorest families start businesses. We rob Peter to pay Paul for a few more millions to vaccinate against measles, which kills 900,000 children each year. We debate, year after year, funding for family planning and reproductive health, which is below what it was six years ago.
The less than one-half of 1 percent of the president's budget for these vital programs is the Achilles' heel of the campaign against terrorism. Just as wiping out illegal narcotics traffickers in one place opens the door for others to fuel the demand for drugs, a campaign against anti-American fanaticism will not be won by silencing its voices in Afghanistan or anywhere else. Unless we also do much more to target the causes of hatred, new voices will emerge, like a virus, fed by the misery of people who have nothing to lose.
There is still time to construct an effective, balanced strategy against terrorism. The Congress, with its power of the purse, should ensure that a fraction of the proposed budget increase goes to combat poverty. Five billion would be an absolute minimum as a start. That is twice what we currently devote to the world's poor, and it would be money well spent to provide the opportunity and hope that are antidotes to the hate and despair upon which terrorism thrives.

Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, is chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.


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