- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004


A revolution in U.S. foreign aid, rewarding countries for how they govern, finally is ready to get under way, almost two years after the Bush administration first promised it.

The program will favor countries whose governments are judged to be just rulers, welcoming hosts for foreign investment and promoters of projects to meet their people’s basic health and education needs.

Corrupt police states need not apply.

Administration officials expect this year to inaugurate President Bush’s plan, known as the Millennium Challenge Account, which he outlined in March 2002. It contemplated $5 billion annually for the program starting in 2006, a 50 percent increase over the base foreign aid budget of $10 billion.

The administration had hoped for $1.3 billion for the current budget year, which began Oct. 1, as a starter; Congress has provided nothing but is expected to approve $1 billion after it reconvenes this month.

Mr. Bush proposed the initiative six months after the September 11 attacks, and it clearly has a national security component.

“Poverty, weak institutions and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders,” according to Mr. Bush’s National Security Strategy report from September 2002.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, calls it “a revolutionary new development initiative.”

Based on many decades of experience, Mr. Natsios said, “money will not solve the problem of bad policy” but can accelerate progress in countries with enlightened governments.

Mr. Bush’s idea has its critics.

Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and an expert on Latin America, said the program does nothing over the short term to help that region’s impoverished masses.

Chester Crocker, a top aide on Africa policy in the Reagan administration, said the program is worthwhile but limited. He said African countries being considered are few in number and small in size.

“This particular approach is good in countries that sort of work,” he said. “Philosophically, it makes some sense to do it this way, but it’s not a silver bullet that answers all the problems.”

The program seems to have attracted more interest abroad than at home. Mr. Natsios said in an interview that several governments are tailoring their policies so that they might be among the lucky dozen or so initial recipients of program money.

Mr. Natsios said he told the parliamentary leader in a European country that his government’s inability to deal with corruption meant that it was out of the running for Millennium Challenge money. Soon thereafter, Mr. Natsios said, the speaker saw to it that the parliament approved three anticorruption bills.

Mr. Natsios would not identify the country or any of the others in the running.

Steve Radelet, of the District-based Center for Global Development, said potential beneficiaries in the first round, based on program criteria, are Armenia, Bhutan, Ghana, Honduras, Lesotho, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Any administration plan to include Vietnam would be contested in Congress because of the country’s authoritarian government.

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