Romney’s Major Reversal On Foreign Aid

(Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)

In a Columbus Day speech to the Virginia Military Institute, Governor Mitt Romney backed away from his controversial position of requiring foreign assistance to be “zeroed out” each year. The speech, billed as a “major foreign policy address” as the Romney campaign seeks to highlight the candidate’s policy positions in the run-up to the election, contained little new in terms of specifics.

One area that Romney did differ from previous statements was his position on the United States’ delivery of foreign aid to allies abroad. In today’s speech, Romney spoke on the continuing need to provide assistance to governments in the Middle East, along with conditions that recipients had to follow:

I will rally our friends and allies to match our generosity with theirs. And I will make it clear to the recipients of our aid that, in return for our material support, they must meet the responsibilities of every decent modern government-to respect the rights of all of their citizens, including women and minorities… to ensure space for civil society, a free media, political parties, and an independent judiciary… and to abide by their international commitments to protect our diplomats and our property.

This differs from Romney’s statements during the Republican primary campaign. At a debate in South Carolina in November 2011, Romney latched onto a proposal from Texas Governor Rick Perry highlighting foreign aid as a potential area for cutting spending. At the time, Romney said “[O]ne of the things we have to do with our foreign aid commitments, the ongoing foreign aid commitments, I agree with Governor Perry. You start everything at zero.”

Currently, the foreign aid budget makes up about one percent of the Federal budget. Former Romney campaign national co-chair Tim Pawlenty has previously criticized Governor Romney for the position, calling it “directionally not correct.”