Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Obama "mobilizing" and "leveraging" $1 billion for Jordanian economic development

It was just a quick little statement after President Obama's meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah today:
"I'm pleased to announce that we have mobilized several hundreds of millions of dollars through OPIC, and that will leverage ultimately about $1 billion for economic development inside of Jordan. In addition, because of the huge spike in commodity prices throughout the world, we are going to be providing 50,000 metric tons of wheat to Jordan. All of this will help to stabilize the cost of living and day-to-day situation of Jordanians and will provide a foundation so that these economic reforms can move forward and long-term development can take place. So we're very happy to be partnering with His Majesty on that issue."
When I first heard the statement on Fox News, I thought he said the money would be leveraged through "OPEC" but after reading the transcript, I see that the president was referring to OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.  It claims to be:
"[t]he U.S. Government's development finance institution. It mobilizes private capital to help solve critical world challenges and in doing so, advances U.S. foreign policy. Because OPIC works with the U.S. private sector, it helps U.S. businesses gain footholds in emerging markets catalyzing revenues, jobs and growth opportunities both at home and abroad."
It also claims it was:
"[E]stablished as an agency of the U.S. Government in 1971, OPIC operates on a self-sustaining basis at no net cost to American taxpayers."
A government agency that operates at no net cost to the American taxpayers?  Forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical. 

So back to Obama "mobilizing" OPIC dollars.  The State department released a report today detailing U.S. aid to Jordan.  It includes:

  • $463 million FY 2010 in USAID funds (includes $194 million cash transfer to assist the Jordanian government in retiring its foreign debt).
  • $303.8 million FY 2010 in military assistance.
  • $24.6 million FY 2010 Nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs.
  • $1.5 million FY 2010 International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement.
  • $600,000 FY 2010 Civil Society Programs.
  • $275.1 million October 2010 Millennium Challenge Corporation (clean water compact). 
  • $400 million (planned) OPIC Investment Programs (financing to "mobilize" $1 billion of development projects in Jordan).
That's roughly a billion dollars in aid we sent to Jordan last year, not including the "no net cost" OPIC money.  This aid is essentially a payoff for them to remain at peace with Israel and to be a good role model to other Middle Eastern countries.  

Can we be really honest here?  This is not about humanitarian aid.  While Jordan is experiencing some difficult economic times, it's hardly Sudan or Somalia.  In fact, a Jordanian Chamber of Commerce-style website boasts:

  • Jordan is among the region’s highest spenders on education, investing more than 20.4% of our GDP to enable a labor force tailored to meet the demands of the modern market. 
  • Jordan’s literacy rate of 91% is among the highest in the Middle East.
  • Beginning in elementary school, Jordanian children learn English and Computer skills ;( in preparation for IT training at the secondary level.) 
  • Jordan produces over 6,000 IT graduates every year
  • An efficiently, productive workforce. We spend 4.2% of our GDP to guarantee the well being of our citizens- more than any other country in the region. Life expectancy and public health levels in Jordan are comparable to the West with 70% of the population on medical insurance.
  • Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Report in 2003, ranked Jordanian students scores to be 22 points above international average in science and mathematics.
  • Superb housing at the most competitive rates in the Middle East.
  • Excellent medical facilities with Western trained physicians
  • A wide range of international schools.
  • Broadband connectivity in the major cities.
Though Jordan has few natural resources and isn't sitting on oil reserves like other Middle Eastern countries, it's hardly a third-world, desolate wasteland.  

For many years, conservatives have accepted these payouts to countries like Jordan without batting an eye, thinking that it was a necessary evil in the name of "peacekeeping" and "nation building."  And we have a vested interest in Israel - she is our ally and the only democracy in the Middle East.  We must not allow Israel to be shoved into the sea as her enemies have been trying to do since Israel gained its independence in 1948.  If that happens, the spread and escalation of radical Islam in the world will be something unprecedented in history.

But do these payouts actually work? Are they helping?  When I see that we gave Jordan $194 million to retire their foreign debt it tells me that their government is as fiscally irresponsible as ours is.  Think about this:  

We borrowed $194 million to send to Jordan so they could pay off their foreign debts and added  it to our own national debt!

In whose universe is that even slightly reasonable?  

We also give $1.5 billion to Egypt and $3.1 billion to Pakistan.  It's anybody's guess whether these countries are our friends.  If they are, it may change next week.  The only thing that's clear is that they lean Islamic-totalitarian-dictator-ish in political philosophy and we can trust them about as far as we can throw a Muhammad statue (that is if you could actually create one of those in Egypt or Pakistan and then manage to toss it without having your head forcibly removed by the authorities or local frenzied mob). 

The question that vexes me is how and when bribery came to be a synonym for diplomacy.  We've completely ceded our status as a world power when our only bargaining chip is cash, which we seem to be completely out of right now. 


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