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Stabilizing nations with aid ends up benefitting America

Our next president, whether Barack Obama or a still to be determined challenger, and future congressional leaders will face enormous challenges in an increasingly complex world.

These challenges have been exacerbated by the recent failure of the congressional "supercommittee" (six Republicans and six Democrats) to find common ground insofar as reducing the federal budget by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, that is unless the president and leaders on Capitol Hill can reach an agreement.

If not, sweeping automatic/across the board cuts loom in 2013 after next year's elections.

It is essential to ensure that any cuts be smart, not haphazard — targeted to eliminate waste and ineffective programs while maintaining what works. This applies to both domestic and foreign programs.

One key area that is routinely mischaracterized and taken out of context is foreign aid, which represents less than 1 percent of the total federal budget yet helps to strengthen our allies, deprive extremists like al-Qaida of new recruits, and protect millions of women and children from AIDS and preventable, life-threatening diseases like malaria — all goals vital to our national interests.

Another indirectly related area that appears to be vulnerable is the federally funded refugee resettlement program, which historically has been underfunded. Haphazard cuts here would have devastating impact on refugees, Afghan and Iraqi special immigrant visa recipients, victims of torture and trafficking and other vulnerable populations, as well as upon communities in Florida and across the United States that are home to these populations.

For perspective, Florida receives more federal refugee resettlement funding than most other states given a disproportionately large population of eligible Cuban and Haitian entrants.

These issues do not implicate exclusively Democratic or Republican values; rather they reflect who we are as a nation. Such programs respond to humanitarian needs and ultimately can help to transform aid recipient countries into productive and contributing members the global economy.

Candidates for high elected office, incumbents and challengers alike, have an opportunity if not a responsibility to make the case that looking beyond our own compelling needs by protecting critical foreign aid programs as well as refugee resettlement programs makes sense in both the short and long term irrespective of political affiliation.

The costs associated with fighting extreme poverty at home and abroad are relatively low when compared with the costs of turning our backs to the challenge as measured in needless human suffering, lost markets for American goods and the prospect of greater instability and disaffection in the world.

If unchecked, such dynamics can foment extremist causes and boost the popularity of those who would do harm to Americans simply as a means to an end.

When people aren't sick, they can work, go to school and care for their families — all critical to the development of productive states that are less susceptible to the dynamics of hopelessness and lack of opportunity that can trigger violence and provide fertile recruiting ground for radical groups, increasing the likelihood that our men and women in military service could be called in to stabilize the situation.

Candidates who stand firm on these issues will not stand alone.

The ONE Campaign — a nonpartisan grass-roots advocacy group cofounded by U2 frontman Bono that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease — and its 2.5 million members will stand with them. It recently launched an initiative to demonstrate broad support for America's legacy of helping those living in extreme poverty by "teaching them to fish," a guiding principle for engagement at the state level by the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas (FAVACA), a unique not-for-profit established by then-Gov. Bob Graham in 1982 on behalf of all Floridians.

Govs. Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush recognized the merit of Graham's vision insofar as promoting smart development and leveraged FAVACA, which is memorialized in Florida law as the Florida International Volunteer Corps, in an effort to make a meaningful difference in Haiti, address a range of humanitarian needs throughout the region, deter and disrupt transnational threats like gang activity, disease vectors and agricultural blights that do not respect sovereign borders, and to promote trade and economic development among Florida and her neighbors.

Some call it enlightened self-interest.

The ongoing budget machinations and the upcoming election cycle will afford numerous opportunities to determine who is more likely to build upon America's proud legacy in this regard than take what might appear to be a more politically expedient path by choosing to ignore it.

Mark Schlakman serves as senior program director at FSU's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. He also serves as board chairman for the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas (FAVACA) and is a member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's (USGLC) state advisory committee.

Stabilizing nations with aid ends up benefitting America 12/18/11 [Last modified: Sunday, December 18, 2011 3:30am]

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