Rand Sparks Cross-Party Debate on Foreign Aid

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US Senator Rand Paul, through his political action committee, RANDPAC, is distributing ads against Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio over their support for foreign aid to countries that are hostile to the United States.

Featuring harrowing images of rioters and burning fires from the Middle East, the narrator says:

“While they tear down and burn the American flag in Egypt and shout ‘Death to America,’ Joe Manchin votes to provide US taxpayer aid to Egypt. While Pakistan imprisons and tortures the hero who helped us get Osama bin Laden, Joe Manchin votes to send billions of our taxpayer dollars to Pakistan. While radical Islamists burn our embassy and kill our ambassador in Libya, Joe Manchin votes to send more taxpayer money to Libya.”

The same ad is running in Florida and adapted to include the foreign aid votes of Nelson. Paul may also run the ad in Missouri against Claire McCaskill.

In September, Paul introduced a bill that would withdraw foreign aid to Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya until those countries met certain conditions. In a letter to colleagues before his bill and subsequent filibuster, Senator Paul stated:

“You do not get foreign aid unless you are an unwavering ally of the United States. . . .

“First, we must demand accountability from the government of Pakistan, which receives over $3 billion from us every year, yet routinely plays both sides of some of the most important issues while openly thwarting our objectives in the region. . . .

“At the same time, we must take steps to cut foreign aid to Egypt and Libya – or any other country which fails to secure our embassies – unless there is full cooperation in bringing these attackers to justice, no foreign aid will be provided in the future. . . . We must insist that any country which expects assistance dollars from the United States cannot permit the growth and influence of dangerous ideologies within their borders – especially when the practitioners of these ideologies are intent on murdering our diplomatic personnel abroad.”

Despite the defeat of Paul’s bill, 81-10, the Kentucky senator has only targeted Democratic senators who have voted to continue issuing foreign aid to Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya. As a result of this campaign, South Carolina US Senator Lindsey Graham fought back against the foreign aid ads Rand Paul ran saying, “Foreign relations are not a Democrat or Republican issue, but [sic] a American issue. I would very much like to have a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Senate. But when it comes to foreign policy and the matters of war, I think they need to be bipartisan.”

Republican US senators Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and John Barrasso of Wyoming are all up for reelection and also voted against Paul’s S. 3576 to cut off aid to these countries. While none of them face competitive challengers, neither have they had ads run against them by RANDPAC. According to a story in Politico, Paul admitted that the ads are meant to help create Republican electoral victories:

“I don’t see myself campaigning against a Republican in a general election ever, that’s why I think it’s extraordinary that Graham is supporting a Democrat in a general election. . . . What is more important: Defending, I think, a failed policy of foreign aid or getting a Republican majority? And I personally think getting a Republican majority, from my perspective, is very important.”

According to a PBS interview, foreign aid comprises approximately 1% of the federal budget with much of it still going toward defense expenditures. Still, this was a bill designed not to end foreign aid and the RANDPAC ads are not taking a stand against all foreign aid either – only foreign aid that goes to countries that are not completely compliant to Washington.

Graham, who is not actually supporting any Democrat, went on to say, “If I thought we could withdraw from the Middle East and we would be safe, I would do it.” He also said, “Al Qaida, the Taliban, and radical Islamists would like nothing more than to have America withdraw from the region.” Graham’s demagoguery, which also included the notion that cutting off aid to Egypt, would have broken the Camp David Accords and “would have been the worst thing we could have done for the state of Israel.” It was a tacit admission that a few billion dollars in foreign aid is all that keeps the peace between Israel and Egypt and is therefore little other than bribe money.

Earlier this month, the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, conducted a poll that found that a majority of Americans favor a reduction in foreign aid to Egypt after the Morsi government did little in response to the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi and the protests in Cairo.

Since he entered national politics, Rand Paul has utilized an intraparty strategy to achieve his goals. Even though he has taken a public stand against some of the prevailing wisdom of his party, which is favored by many in the country, he does not attack Republicans in these ads for supporting foreign aid to Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya. He does, however, take heat from powerful members of his party for attacking entrenched interests. The demagoguery shown by Graham as well as the Democrats he targets shows that curtailing even a portion of a program that takes up approximately 1% of the federal budget can be a lonely struggle.