By batting my eyelash, I just prevented a thousand hurricanes by mattsteinglass
December 2, 2008, 11:14 am
Filed under: Foreign Policy, United States, War

Matthew Yglesias is glad that Obama plans (according to David Sanger in the NYT yesterday) to shift substantial resources away from the Pentagon and towards a large corps of conflict-prevention cadres, such as diplomats and aid officials. I think this is great too, with one minor caveat: I’m not sure we actually have any clue how to prevent conflicts. I’ve never seen any firm evidence that foreign aid is effective at preventing conflicts, and while diplomacy is effective, I don’t entirely understand how shifting dollars translates into better diplomacy, below a certain minimal limit. The main clear positive I can imagine from a greater US emphasis on aid and diplomacy spending, and less on military spending, is a shift in foreign perceptions of the US — a greater sense that we’re at least trying to be a positive and public-spirited force in the world, not a selfish hegemon. (To this end, the one thing I could see really paying off is a much bigger investment in “public diplomacy” efforts, reopening US-funded libraries and study centers in remote corners of 3rd-world nations that were shuttered by post-Cold War budget cuts, sending more great American jazz and hip-hop artists to Indonesia and Turkey, etc.) But as for aid spending to reduce conflict — I’d need to have that explained more clearly to me, and to see some evidence it’s worked. How do we know what conflicts we prevented, and that they were prevented by our actions? It sure sounds intuitively appealing, but where are the examples?

All of this may just be a result of the fact that I’ve spent the last week reading William Easterly’s “White Man’s Burden” and am finding it hard to justify most aid spending in general. But that mood will probably pass once I think about the issue more.

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