Romney points to foreign aid as way to help allies, change Muslim world

W. James Antle III | Managing Editor

While many Republicans are calling for cuts in foreign aid, Mitt Romney implied during the final presidential debate on Monday night that it would be an important tool of his foreign policy.

Early in the debate, Romney called for “a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own,” saying his strategy was broader than President Barack Obama’s.

“We don’t want another Iraq, we don’t want another Afghanistan,” Romney tried to reassure war-weary swing voters. “That’s not the right course for us.” Instead he called for taking out high-value terrorist targets while trying to “help the Muslim world.”

“We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we — we push back and give them more economic development,” Romney continued, citing suggestions from Arab scholars organized by the United Nations.

Romney argued that the aid should be targeted toward allies of the United States and democratic reformers.

The Republican presidential nominee also suggested that the U.S. should help organize and arm anti-Assad forces in Syria, while taking pains to avoid direct military involvement.

In September, a group of conservatives led by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul tried to suspend foreign aid to Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt. The Senate overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, and some Republicans pushed back.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham defended Democrats criticized by Paul for voting against the foreign aid cutoff. “Foreign relations are not a Democrat or Republican issue, but a American issue,” Graham remarked.

“I hope Senator Paul and those who support his amendment will consider, at a minimum, restructuring that amendment to recognize that there is a difference between Libya and Egypt, and that we should take different approaches in that regard,” said Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. “We have a right to be outraged.  We have a right to be angry.  But we should never abandon being smart.”

Romney said Monday night that aid to countries like Pakistan should come with strings attached. Yet when asked directly about one of the conditions imposed by Paul’s bill, the GOP candidate balked at saying he would cut off aid.

“We know that Pakistan has arrested the doctor who helped us catch [Osama] bin Laden,” moderator Bob Schieffer began. “It still provides safe haven for terrorists, yet we continue to give Pakistan billions of dollars. Is it time for a divorce with Pakistan?”

Of the captive doctor who helped the U.S. locate bin Laden, Rubio has said “it is right to condition some, if not all, of our foreign aid and cooperation for Pakistan on his status and on his release.”

Romney replied that this wasn’t the time to “walk way from Pakistan,” but did go on to say “as we send support for them, that this is tied to them making progress on — on matters that would lead them to becoming a civil society.”

Some of Romney’s aid comments may have reflected his desire to find a middle ground between the foreign policies of Obama and George W. Bush. But he did step in the middle of a policy dispute that divides his party.

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