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Democracy Fund: A loser for America

By Cheryl K. Chumley
web posted October 11, 2004

How much is enough?

That should be the overall question for Americans to ponder after President Bush's speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 21, during which he pledged to increase U.S. responsibilities for providing for the world's downtrodden and poverty-stricken via more funding and greater cooperation with the global government.

Forefront of Bush's plan was a call for creation of the Democracy Fund, a coffer to "help countries lay the foundations of democracy by instituting the rule of law, independent courts, a free press, political parties and trade unions." A boon for the impoverished nations, no doubt. But Americans should view this proposal with wary eyes, for two main reasons.

The Democracy Fund proposed by Bush would be overseen, at least in part, by the United Nations, a body with historic ineptness at allocating money absent scandal and waste (witness the Oil-for-Food program). Secondly, the United States provides more than enough in terms of international assistance, billions of dollars at both national and international levels, and moreover already operates a so-titled Democracy Fund within the State Dept. that accounted for more than $66 million of taxpayer dollars between 1999 and 2003.

The Human Rights and Democracy Fund "supports innovative programming designed to uphold designated principles, support democratic institutions, promote human rights and build civil society in countries and regions of the world that are geo-strategically critical to the U.S." Not only does this agenda mirror that of the proposed Bush plan for a U.N. Democracy Fund, leading to the question of course of why America must pay twice for separate identical programs, but it also, of perhaps greatest importance, includes the clause "geo-strategically critical" to the United States.

This provision, crucial to upholding the tenets of sovereignty upon which our constitutional republic is built, is notably lacking with the U.N. Democracy Fund. And what this oversight amounts to is yet another U.S. taxpayer liability absent U.S. control.

Here's an ideal to consider, as outdated as it might seem in America 2004, but whatever happened to the caveat of one of our nation's most influential Founding Fathers?

"It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world…," said George Washington, during his 1796 farewell address to the country.

Seems this U.N. Democracy Fund might meet the criteria of a defined entangling alliance, given that the U.S. taxpayers would foot the bill of an outreach program they would not even then independently oversee. Better for America than a presidential promise to cede more money and oversight to the United Nations would have been a Bush appeal to Congress and the duly elected (who remain accountable in word and deed to the American constituent) for greater funding of the State Dept. Democracy Fund. At least that way, our nation could pinpoint which countries to support, as we did for example, during FY 2003–2004 with $615,000 to prevent torture in Uzbekistan, or $607,000 to promote law in China.

While arguably true that some of these State Dept. expenditures might still run contrary to Washington's warning against international alliances, this method of funding nonetheless requires those in the political realm to debate, consider and weigh on a case-by-case basis whether each proposed allotment would bring benefit to America, either short-term or in the long-run. Sending money to the United Nations to disburse as it largely sees fit guarantees no such consideration would exist, and the fact that Bush did not yet stipulate how much America would provide in initial contributions for this fund only furthers the concern that this entire idea is based on irresponsible economics.

But this proposed new U.N. fund mocks America on another front, also: Lacking is any mention of free-market principle, a core value of the very democracy Bush seeks to spread. While grants and giveaways can be seen as necessary as an economic jumpstart for deeply impoverished nations that have little from which to build and produce, long-term funding absent real reform of the part of the receiving country does not result in motivation to achieve self-sufficiency. In other words, instead of proposing a fund geared loosely at spreading democracy world-wide, and setting the United Nations as overseer of this program, Bush instead should have confined his dream to U.S. borders with approved allocations that focused on helping the world's impoverished to develop products that could ultimately prove desirous and tradable on the international level.

In this way, the United States maintains control over the direction of funding, maintains control over the choice of nations to help, based on potential to achieve democratic reform and economic solvency, and simultaneously, maintains at least some small part of the spirit and basic ideals that guide our constitutional system.

Cheryl K. Chumley is also a freelancing columnist and may be reached at ckchumley@aol.com.

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