Romney: "We Ought To Get The Chinese To Take Care Of" Humanitarian Aid

October 20, 2011 5:25 pm ET — Walid Zafar

In a speech at The Citadel earlier in the month, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney assured the audience that he would "not surrender America's role in the world." "If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth," he told the crowd, "I am not your President. You have that President today."

Romney's foreign policy speech and a white paper his campaign released to highlight his foreign policy lack many of the concrete details needed to know what specifically Romney will do to make sure America is always "the strongest nation on earth." He is more comfortable with platitudes and repeating "every banal right-wing foreign policy cliché" than explaining what he'd actually do.

On one issue, however, Romney seems to have a plan; among the GOP hopefuls, he's emerged as the biggest China-basher. Though parts of his China policy are utterly unrealistic (for instance, he would ask China to help us quell tensions in North Korea while at the same time selling more weapons to Taiwan), he at least seems to be thinking about foreign policy seriously, which can't be said of others in the race. "Mitt Romney will implement a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system," explains his white paper.

But how will Romney prevent China's "path of regional hegemony" and what will he proactively do to maintain our dominant role in the world? Apparently, he will cede our role in assisting impoverished countries over to China by letting the Chinese handle humanitarian aid.

During the Republican debate Tuesday night, Romney was asked if he would cut foreign aid. He defended military aid — suggesting that all of  it be rolled into the Defense Department's budget — as well as aid to important strategic countries such as Pakistan and, of course, Israel. But humanitarian aid, Romney explained, should be handled by others. Perhaps the Chinese.

ROMNEY: Part of it is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give it to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are — that are — and think of that borrowed money...

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Sure, it's not ideal for us to borrow from the Chinese to provide foreign aid. And it certainly doesn't make sense for us to borrow from the Chinese and then give aid to China. But Romney's answer ignores the fact that the United States, like other wealthy donor countries (and even many developing countries), achieves its goals by means of foreign aid programs. Foreign aid is not, in most cases, a gift we give without some expectations.

When Romney suggests letting the Chinese take over our already underfunded humanitarian aid commitments, he is effectively ceding global leadership to a country he believes threatens American interests abroad. (As Eli Clifton points out, China is already in the aid business; just not in a way that supports U.S. interests.) That is not exactly holding the line against China. In fact, as Matt Yglesias writes, "it would send a mighty strange message to the rest of the world for us to pre-emptively cede our global leadership role out of a goofy desire to save pennies in foreign aid spending." And it certainly goes against Romney's pledge to keep America "the strongest nation on earth."

Romney notes in his white paper that he will utilize "the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict" and he probably understands that humanitarian aid is at the core of soft power (and plays a significant role in the U.S. economy). If that's the case, it's likely that Romney is just mouthing off nonsense to garner support among the GOP base. One of the principle criticisms of Romney is that he will say virtually anything that appeals to the particular audience he is addressing. That is why he has earned the nickname "Multiple Choice Mitt." In a Republican contest in which demonstrating the absence of empathy is seen as a virtue, Romney's aid comment is a sure-fire winner.

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