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Opinion: Is the GOP's Isolationism Here to Stay?

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As a proud conservative, I am a firm believer in President Ronald Reagan’s famous 11 Commandment not to speak ill of a fellow Republican. At the same time, I’ve been mulling over a statement made by Texas Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) during a recent presidential debate that has me a bit perplexed.

In case you missed it (what with the 200 or so Republican debates we’ve had thus far), Governor Perry announced that if he were elected president,  his foreign policy budget would allocate zero dollars to foreign aid – with the exception of Israel – and that he would then dole out foreign assistance based on a particular country’s level of support towards the United States.  At first glance, Perry’s position appears admirable – the United States is $15 trillion in debt and perhaps we’d be better off allocating our precious resources here at home rather than to countries abroad whose level of support towards the United States has been questionable at best. 

For one, Pakistan certainly comes to mind – how could their intelligence service (ISI) not realize that Osama bin Laden was a mere stone’s throw from their version of West Point for more than five years?  Or, why should the United States contribute money to UNESCO when that body recently recognized the right of a Palestinian State to exist without first negotiating a two State solution between Israel and the Palestinian Authority?  Cut off Pakistan and cut off UNESCO, I say. To his credit, President Obama has sharply reduced funding to the former and cut off American assistance to the latter.

But the more one delves into Governor Perry’s statement, the more it reads as if it was drafted by an isolationist candidate than a Republican seeking his party’s nomination for president of the United States.  Does Perry now represent the mainstream of Republican thinking in regards to foreign assistance?

Fortunately, I think not.  From the recent tsunami in Asia to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, countries around the world correctly look to the United States as the beacon of compassion and hope in times of trouble.  In times of peace, the United States has led the way in providing foreign assistance to promote democracy, combat disease and participate in humanitarian activities. 

According to a recent story by CBS News, the United States allocated $49.1 billion and $44.9 billion for Fiscal Years 2008-2009.  For his part, President Obama called for $50.8 billion for fiscal year 2012 which began on October 1 of this year.  As a percentage of overall dollars spent in our overall budget, these figures amount to slightly more than one percent a year.  Meaningful foreign policy or posturing and window dressing for politicians looking for votes for a presidential election cycle?  I’ll let you decide. 

Ron Christie is Founder and CEO of Christie Strategies LLC, a communications and issues management firm in Washington, D.C. He presently serves as a Resident Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics at Harvard University and appears regularly on The Takeaway. A former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Christie is the author of the just published book, Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur.