As President Donald Trump threatens a federal government shutdown if Congress fails to provide the money to put up a wall between Mexico and the United States, he may have been surprised by the full throated support a panel including U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia gave to U.S. diplomacy and aid for the country’s continued engagement in the world.
Mr. Perdue was joined by U.S. Air Force (Ret.) General Richard Hawley and Michael Goltzman, vice president for global public policy and international government relations at the Coca-Cola Co. at the luncheon hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
Liz Schrayer, the coalition’s president and CEO moderated the event held on Aug. 25 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead, which started with a video of both Republican and Democratic legislators claiming bipartisan support for a host of U.S.-backed global initiatives to sustain a leadership role in world affairs.
The event was well attended as several hundred subdued attendees enjoyed a free lunch. It was totally absent of the combustibility of recent town halls and there was no discussion of the administration’s most controversial issues such as its policies concerning immigration, Russia or trade.
As written questions were collected for the panelists at the luncheon a small coterie of protestors carrying placards called from the outskirts of the hotel for a town hall.
“Our future financially in America is all about priorities. We have to make some tough decisions,” Mr. Perdue said about upcoming budget deliberations. “Whether we buy bullets, or spend money on diplomacy, or aid, or health care. That is the reality.”
The Trump administration has recommended to cut the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by at least 32 percent compared to FY 2017, which would lead to dramatic restructuring and staffing cuts at the two institutions most responsible for U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid.
The panelists recognized the importance of military action in world affairs, but generally as a last resort. A large part of the discussion was spent on the benefits of diplomacy in resolving conflicts and positive effects of aid programs to support peace in the most impoverished areas of the world.
Much of the time was spent on extolling the U.S. commitment to supporting aid programs in Africa and the effective containment of ebola thanks to U.S. efforts.
Although there was no review of anticipated cuts in what is expected to be a $3 trillion-plus budget, the panelists indicated that the U.S. could make up any shortfall in its overseas initiatives through private, public partnerships.
Mr. Goltzman provided an overview of Coke’s successes in leveraging its distribution networks and on the ground familiarity in Africa in conjunction with USAID initiatives to the extent of even keeping refrigerators functioning in Nigerian clinics for those in need of specific medicines.
The Millennium Challenge Corp., an independent U.S. foreign aid agency created by Congress in 2004 to combat poverty around the world, emerged as a favored institution among the panelists for its rigorous and transparent reporting requirements.
Mr. Perdue’s support of the Economic Growth and Development Act introduced by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia was praised for its recognition of the need for accountability of the money spent on aid projects, including measurements of the effectiveness of these programs.
Mr. Isakson’s bill, S. 1274, establishes a direct relationship between the U.S. development agencies and the private sector and calls for an examination into the factors that limit private-sector growth in each country that receives U.S. assistance.
Mr. Isakson has said that passage of the bill would result in more efficient use of U.S. foreign assistance and help U.S. small- and medium-sized businesses to learn what tools are at their disposal to help them invest in developing countries.
The bill was reintroduced in May and still has not been passed.
For an analysis of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s view on the budget, click here.