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(photo credit: Bloomberg)
WASHINGTON – Bill Gates joined two former US secretaries is calling Wednesday for America to continue robustly funding foreign aid despite the economic difficulties at home.
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The pleas of Gates, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former secretary of homeland security Tom Ridge come as the US contemplates steep cuts its budget amidst an economic crisis and newly minted members of Congress with backing from the Tea Party, much of which wants to see foreign aid cut.
“Right now, the tough choice is to maintain foreign assistance, not to cut it. Right now, the bold act of leadership is to defend spending on key international programs, not to attack it,” said Gates, the former Microsoft CEO and current co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Gates was the keynote speaker at the annual tribute dinner of the US Global Leadership Coalition, a bipartisan group of policymakers, business groups and NGOs dedicated to enhancing America’s use of soft power.
Tom Ridge, a Republican who served under George W. Bush and joined Gates at the dinner, similarly spoke about the importance of boosting foreign aid even when it might be politically difficult to do so.
“During these tough economic times when these deficits are real and tough economic decisions have to be made, we have to convince the men and women up on the Hill that if we’re going to advance our interests around the globe we certainly need a strong military but we can’t rely simply on military strategy,” he said.
Speakers at the dinner were primarily focus on US development assistance to poorer countries, which looks to be one of the more vulnerable parts of the budget to be considered by the new Congress.
Many on Capitol Hill have spoken of the importance of maintaining
Israel’s aid, which totals about $3 billion annually. But Rand Paul, a
Kentucky senator and tea party favorite, called recently for aid to
Israel to be cut as well as that to other countries. Though several
Republican as well as Democratic figures criticized his remarks, leading
GOP members have noted that in the case of across-the-board cuts,
Israel’s aid could be affected.
In response to Paul’s comments, the group Christians United for Israel
sent out an action alert rejecting his stance that garnered 22,500
Those opposed to his position sent emails to the Paul’s office arguing
that “eliminating aid to Israel would abandon a key ally in a dangerous
region at a turbulent time. Such a cut would betray our highest
principles, endanger our nation, and, in the long run, end up costing us
CUFI founder Pastor John Hagee, a Christian evangelical leader, said in a
statement the Paul’s views shouldn’t be seen as representative of the
Tea Party, which has emerged as major Republican constituency.
“I do not believe that the Senator’s comments are representative of the
Tea Party or the wider American public,” Hagee said. “CUFI members and
leaders have met on several occasions with Tea Party leaders and elected
officials. Throughout our meetings, Tea Party leaders consistently
expressed their commitment to supporting Israel’s qualitative military
edge in the Middle East.”