To Give with Grace: America's Grudging Foreign Aid
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Written: February, 2000
Bis dat, qui cito dat (He who gives promptly, gives twice as much)
Yankee Go Home. Nato is Nazo. American trash culture. The graffiti adorn every wall, the contempt seems to be universal. America and Americans are perceived to be uglier than ever before. It borders on hatred and xenophobia. Are we talking about Serbia in the midst of its Kosovo baptizing by fire? Not really. America-bashing seems to be a phenomenon engulfing rich (Czech Republic) and poor (Macedonia), the lawful (Greece) and the lawless (Russia), the Western orientated (Bulgaria) and the devoutly Slavophile (Serbia). Often, America (and Britain, its Anglo-Saxon sidekick) stand as proxies and fall guys for this ephemeral ghoul, the West. At other times, the distinctions are finer and France or Scandinavia, for instance, are excluded from the general outcry and condemnation.
Americans - these patriarchs of spin doctoring and image making - complain about the yawning discrepancy between facts and perceptions. America is by far the most generous nation on earth, they say (and it is). It recurrently risks the lives of its soldiers and diplomats in the service of worthy causes the world over. It often endures economic damage as it seeks to tame and educate unwieldy tyrants - the cost of weaponry, the exclusion of American business from whole regions of the globe. Its agenda is meritorious and virtuous. It champions human rights, civil society and peace. It actively engages in the enforcement of the former and in the pursuit of the latter. Never before in human history has a superpower put its prowess and clout to more deserving and selfless use. And it is all true.
But America gives without grace and takes without shame. It is a nation founded on contracts, on quid pro quo, on haggling and on litigation. It is Mammon gone amok, law-abiding gone cancerous and commerce gone haywire. Money has replaced all values combined and fear substitutes for conscience. Its barons are robbers, its serial killers are celebrities, its politicians corrupted by the twin infections of campaign finance and narrow interests. Its diplomacy is the conduit through which it spreads its rough hewn, frontiersmen, bottom line and sound bite culture.
Thus, its "aid" is always strings-attached. Even when not explicit, the payback is imminent and immanent. Goods can be bought with American money only from American manufacturers. The recipient countries are used as dumping grounds for surpluses, be they agricultural or military. A swarm of advisors and do-gooders is in place to secure American interests and markets, to deflect adversaries, to intervene in local politics, brutally, if needed. As a result, American charity, this fabulous beast, is derided as a new form of American colonialism. Broken promises and keen trade protectionism only aggravate the feeling that the West is more interested in photo opportunities than in business opportunities. It seems to be less concerned with the welfare of the assisted than with the expense accounts of the assistants. Rather than where most needed, grant money and provisions flow in the direction of waiting TV cameras.
Even the "natives" of CEE and the Balkans accept that Western diplomacy is the long arm of its business community. What they find harder to digest is the double moral standard, the hypocrisy, the preaching and the hectoring, the bad and uninformed advice foisted upon them by third rate dropouts advisors and fourth rate third world bankers. What they reject is the pompous likes of Blair - hair artistically dishevelled in squalid refugee camps - lecturing, preaching and beseeching while conveniently ignoring aid pledges he solemnly made a while before. What they abhor is Germans reprimanding them for political corruption, Frenchmen upbraiding them for nepotism and cronyism and Britons teaching them health care administration. Or Americans swearing by their selflessness, objectivity and lack of ulterior motives. America plays by different rules, exempt from international law and institutions. In short, the indigenous resent being considered stupid.
The "multi"-lateral institutions (such as the IMF, the WTO and World Bank) are long arms of the USA and, to a lesser extent, of Europe. These are rich men's clubs. Their main aim is to sustain the criminal fool's paradise that is Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. They turn a blind eye to corrupt politicians who do their bidding and another blind eye to violations of every right imaginable - as long as a swampish stability is maintained. They are the sotto voce juggernauts which, in the name of free marketry and civil society, prepare the way for American and Western business. The little good they do is lost in their partiality, ignorance and shortsightedness. They are their master's voice.
Perhaps the West - more so the Anglo-Saxon contingent - should try the refreshing opposite of unbridled narcissism. Perhaps it should give freely and accept nothing in return, not even gratitude. Perhaps it should no longer twist arms and threaten, let multilateral institutions be really multilateral and encourage pluralism through tolerance. More gratitude and business come the way of those who seek them not. Omar al-Khayam, the Persian poet, said: "IF you want to have the bird, set her free". But then the USA is not very likely to listen to an Iranian, is it?
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