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Reformulating Foreign Policy Arguments

During the Reagan era, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and other foreign policy analysts popularized an argument which attempted to justify U.S. support for authoritarian regimes but not totalitarian regimes. The now familiar argument maintained that the U.S. ought to aid the former often brutal criminal regimes but not the latter often brutal criminal regimes since authoritarian governments had an historical tendency to develop into democracies. Kirkpatrick and others grabbed the high ground by challenging their opponents to offer a single instance of such a democratic transformation in a totalitarian regime.

The actual debate focused on U.S. support of Central American states, especially El Salvador and Nicaragua. In this context, these analysts argued that the U.S. was justified in supporting authoritarian El Salvador but not totalitarian Nicaragua, since Nicaragua was not the sort of government which would one day turn into a democratic country.

This argument has now failed. And we should be glad at this failure. The failure of this influential argument is evident not only in Nicaragua but even more so in Eastern Europe. The speed with which such arguments become obsolete is one fascinating aspect of our current political landscape.

However, millions of dollars were administered to foreign nations on the basis of such arguments. Now as we have a historical moment of intellectual reorganization regarding foreign policy, we have the opportunity to voice arguments which challenge the entire practice of U.S. support for foreign nations. One simple question we should press at this time is: why should we offer foreign aid at all? Why should authoritarian or totalitarian regimes have access to U.S. funds?

The Constitution does not provide any sort of justification for using tax money in this manner. Moreover, such funds tend to politicize the societies we choose to subsidize, thus discouraging private, non-political production. We do great damage by "aiding" such countries in this manner. We not only redistribute our own citizens' funds against their wishes, but we suggest to the recepients that wealth is given not created. Such a precedent is the death knell of a culture.

Sadly, the current administration shows no sign of moving in this direction. The damage awaiting these countries is predictable.


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