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October 10, 2012

The U.S. Presidential Election and Development Aid

PhotoKeiichiro Nakazawa
Chief Representative

By Keiichiro Nakazawa
Chief Representative, JICA USA Office

The American president shares a mission with Mickey Mouse. It is to make people believe that dreams can come true and that justice will prevail. But while Mickey continues to wave his magic wand to vanquish evil and win the hearts of Minnie and viewers as he always has, the American president faces an uphill battle and has no magic wand.

The State of the American Dream and Justice

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in mid-September, the poverty rate in the U.S. grew from 11.3 percent (31.6 million people) in 2000 to 15.0 percent (46.2 million) in 2011. On the other end of the spectrum, the income of the wealthy has soared in recent years, creating a concentration of wealth not seen since the late 1920s and the Great Depression.

Regardless of whether it is a reflection of rising income inequality, according to a report released in January by the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans feel that wealth is the greatest divider of American society, beating out generation, race and immigration status, and this sentiment has grown since previous surveys. Worthy of particular note is the rise in the number of middle-class, white Americans who are conscious of this class conflict.

Moreover, the more strongly Americans perceive the rich-poor conflict, the more likely they are to believe that the gap in wealth arises not from personal effort and education, but from birth and personal connections. Americans have begun to believe that the American dream, where hard work is rewarded with a life of comfort, is no longer something they can achieve.

The America notion of justice prevailing is also at risk. The War in Afghanistan has now entered its 12th year, exceeding even the Vietnam War as the longest war in America's history. More than 2,000 American soldiers have been killed, and war expenditures have reached a total of 500 billion dollars.

Although President Barack Obama takes pride in the results, saying at the Democratic National Convention on September 7 that the U.S. has "blunted the Taliban's momentum… al- Qaida is on the path to defeat and Osama bin Laden is dead," the American public takes a dim view of the war. Since 2010, the number of Americans desiring a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan has consistently exceeded those who believe that American troops should stay in Afghanistan until the situation stabilizes.

As of this year, more than 50 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) personnel—primarily American soldiers—have been killed as a result of the "green on blue" attacks by members of the Afghan military and police force. These attacks have increased pressure on the U.S. government to reconsider the war strategy and training as the American public grows increasingly war-weary.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has said that when President Richard Nixon directed the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, there were three conditions that had to be met: 1) maintaining the domestic morale at home and calming the anti-war movement, 2) using the American military to strengthen the South Vietnamese military might and provide development assistance to South Vietnam, and 3) withdrawing soldiers while holding back North Vietnam. These conditions apply also to Afghanistan, and a difficult journey lies ahead in withdrawing America's combat troops by the end of 2014.

The Presidential Election and Reviving the American Dream


Only a few weeks remain until the U.S. presidential election on November 6. Obama, who is seeking re-election, and Republican candidate and former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, who seeks to unseat Obama, share the sense that the American dream is at risk of being lost. However, they differ greatly when it comes to analyzing the causes behind the current situation and in their prescriptions for fixing the problems.

Obama, the Democratic candidate, suggests that the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan left from the previous Bush administration and the global recession since 2008 are responsible for placing the American dream out of reach of the average American. Seeking a second term, Obama defends the government policies enacted under his administration, such as the economic stimulus measures, relief for banks and automobile manufacturers, the health care reform known as "Obamacare," and anti-terrorism measures. He explains that if every American gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same rules, then economic activity, which is already picking up, will accelerate, reviving the American dream.

On the other hand, Romney, the Republican candidate, criticizes the economic handling of the Obama administration over the past four years. He says that their policies have failed to deliver the results expected by the American public. Instead, he enthusiastically proclaims that if made president, he will revive the American economy and employment with his intimate knowledge of the market and experiences in the private sector.

Romney concludes that the policies of the Obama administration have amounted to excessive intervention in the market and private lives, hampering the ability of Americans to develop their full potential, making Americans dependent on the government, and resulting in the American dream becoming a distant goal. The way back to the American dream, he explains, is to take the government out of the driver's seat, give the American people opportunities to demonstrate their natural entrepreneurial spirit, innate talent and self-reliance and leave it to market forces to produce an economic recovery.

The Next Four Years and Development Aid

PhotoJICA President Akihiko Tanaka delivers a talk on Japan-US development cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., in July.

Above everything else, the focus of this year's U.S. presidential election is on rebuilding the domestic economy. Debate on foreign policy has been limited. However, the difference between the two presidential candidates in their approaches to government and the market is clear as well in their approach to development assistance.

In his Global Development Policy announced in September 2010, Obama placed development along with defense and diplomacy as a pillar of America's National Security Strategy. He also announced long-term measures to rebuild the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as the primary development agency of the U.S. government.

The policy platform of the Republican Party, which endorses Romney, says that compared with military engagement, development assistance is a far less costly alternative means of keeping the peace, in terms of both dollars and human lives. However, it criticizes government-to-governmental development assistance as an outdated statist model that becomes a breeding ground for corruption and mismanagement. Instead, the policy platform suggests that taxes on Americans should be lowered, allowing the more efficient private and charitable sectors to increase their giving. Additionally, it says that assistance from the U.S. government should be modeled after the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) established by former President Bush.

The Obama administration has argued that development assistance is essential for U.S. security and that it helps to create future export markets. One centerpiece of the Obama administration's USAID reform has been to increase the number of development professionals to handle increasingly diverse and complex development issues. This policy would provide a new start in accumulating technical expertise that flowed away from USAID after its budget was slashed and its workforce reduced following the end of the Cold War.

PhotoUSAID Administrator Rajiv Shah (left) and Tanaka meet in July in Washington, D.C., to discuss strengthening relations between the two organizations.

The MCC, put forth by the Republican Party as the model for official development assistance, forms grant aid agreements only with developing countries that meet certain criteria. In order to be eligible for funds, developing countries are evaluated on their performance in areas which the U.S. deems important, such as the rule of law, economic freedom and democratic governance.

As can be surmised from the inclusion of "corporation" in the organization's name and the fact that the MCC is headed by a CEO, the principles of competition and business administration are also applied to official development assistance when selecting aid recipients. After an aid recipient country is selected, development projects are executed under the leadership of the government of the recipient, so the MCC requires fewer employees relative to the scale of aid provided.

Since the 1990s, JICA has been advancing aid coordination with the U.S., particularly on the health front. More recently, it has been promoting Japan-U.S. partnership on African food security, as discussed at the G8, and on mobilizing private resources and expertise to assist developing countries.

The trends of foreign aid policies and development aid agencies of the U.S. government affect not only developing countries, but also Japan's ODA policies and JICA's work. Therefore the JICA USA Office will closely monitor the course of the presidential election and the development policies of the next administration.


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