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Guadeloupe Strikes: A Warning to Obama?

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On February 12, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told Congress that the global economic crisis was the most serious security challenge facing the United States and that it could topple governments and trigger waves of refugees, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A week later, the French government was sending police reinforcements to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe after a month of strikes and protests over low pay and high prices followed by clashes between police and protesters. Strikers have been demanding a raise of $250 a month for low-wage workers who now make about $1,130 a month. "Underlying much of the unrest in Guadeloupe and Martinique is anger within the local Afro-Caribbean community...that the vast majority of wealth and land remain in the hands of colonist descendants," noted Al Jazeera.

Across much of the world, and much of Latin America in particular, the global economic crisis is going to play out against a legacy of extreme inequality and poverty. The unrest in Guadeloupe may be a preview of what's coming worldwide if there isn't a change in Washington's priorities.

If the global economic crisis is the most serious security challenge, how come there is so little discussion of devoting more resources to addressing this challenge directly? Quite the contrary: with the purported goal of reducing the U.S. budget deficit, the Obama Administration is planning to "scale back" its promise to double foreign aid, the New York Times reports.

The notion that scaling back Obama's commitment to double foreign aid would be a reasonable way to reduce the nation's fiscal deficit can only be taken seriously as long as people aren't aware of or don't consider the relative magnitude of the numbers involved and the likely consequences of different kinds of spending.

The Times article doesn't report how much the deficit might be decreased by the threatened "scaling back." But the campaign promise was to double foreign aid to $50 billion by 2012. If instead of "scaling back" the promised increase, foreign aid weren't increased at all, that would suggest a maximum saving of about $25 billion a year.

Representative Barney Frank recently wrote in The Nation:

"I would be very happy if there was some way to make it a misdemeanor for people to talk about reducing the budget deficit without including a recommendation that we substantially cut military spending ... Current plans call for us not only to spend hundreds of billions more in Iraq but to continue to spend even more over the next few years producing new weapons that might have been useful against the Soviet Union. Many of these weapons are technological marvels, but they have a central flaw: no conceivable enemy ... In some cases we are developing weapons -- in part because of nothing more than momentum -- that lack not only a current military need but even a plausible use in any foreseeable future ... If, beginning one year from now, we were to cut military spending by 25 percent from its projected levels, we would still be immeasurably stronger than any combination of nations with whom we might be engaged."

Frank's proposal would save about $160 billion a year - more than six times the savings from not increasing foreign aid at all. Or, put another way, if instead of Frank's proposal, we only cut military spending by 4%, that would pay for the entire increase in foreign aid that President Obama promised during the campaign.

And surely it's the case, that if Representative Frank wants to cut the military budget by 25% in part because so much of the military budget has no relevance to "security" (except perhaps to the "security" of executives at military contractors in their desire to continue to live extravagantly on the public dole) then we can find 4% of cuts in the military budget that have nothing to do with "security," as most Americans would understand it. And if that 4% were reallocated to keeping Obama's promise to double foreign aid, then instead of spending it on corporate welfare for military contractors we'd be using it to address what Director of National Intelligence Blair told Congress was the most serious security challenge facing the United States.

President Obama said last summer:

"I know development assistance is not the most popular of programs, but as president, I will make the case to the American people that it can be our best investment in increasing the common security of the entire world and increasing our own security," he said. "That's why I will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion by 2012 and use it to support a stable future in failing states and sustainable growth in Africa, to halve global poverty and to roll back disease."

We eagerly await you, President Obama. Use your bully pulpit. Make the case.


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Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and (more...)
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