Gerson at UI: Humanitarian aid the 'exception' to polarized politics

BY KRISTEN EAST | APRIL 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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Michael Gerson said foreign aid appears to be the exception today in what he calls a period of intense politicization.

Gerson, a senior adviser at ONE — a bipartisan organization fighting against extreme poverty and preventable diseases — visited the University of Iowa campus this past week to discuss the role of U.S. foreign aid in global HIV/AIDS prevention.

“These issues are truly and exceptionally a safe haven for the polarization and bitterness in American politics,” he said.

Gerson’s lecture comes on the heels of what he says has been a decade worth of bipartisanship for foreign-aid programs, the goals of which were to fight global HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty.

George W. Bush implemented the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003.

Starting in 2004, Gerson served as a policy adviser for Bush. He joined ONE in August 2010 as a senior adviser, and he currently writes two columns a week for the Washington Post.

The country is facing a fiscal crisis with across-the-board cuts, but Gerson said humanitarian foreign assistance makes up less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

“The important argument to make is yes, we face a fiscal crisis,” he said. “But discretionary programs, like aid, or like education, are not what’s driving the issue.”

According to the ONE campaign, more than 8 million people receive HIV/AIDS medicine, and cases of malaria have been cut by 75 percent in eight African countries since 2000.

UI officials didn’t jump through any hoops to make Gerson’s visit possible. The ONE chapter at the UI won his appearance after besting more than 100 colleges in a competition to assemble a 2012 World AIDS Day celebration.

Steven Williams, the co-president of the UI’s ONE chapter, said the organization has sent more than 200 letters to Congress and hosted 10 events since its inception.

“Even though we’re new to campus this year, it’s really exciting, and we’re proud to be where we are today,” Williams told the audience Wednesday night.

President Obama has continued some programs started by the Bush administration. And in June 2012, Obama released the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, in which he calls for a partnership with Africa that is “grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect.”

Joel Barkan, a professor emeritus of comparative politics at the UI, said Obama’s policies are for the most part a continuation of those implemented during the Bush administration.

“Generally, Americans from all sides of the political divide have come together on humanitarian aid,” said Barkan, also a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “[But] there’s always been a minority of people who are saying, ‘Why are you giving aid overseas when we having pressing needs at home.’ ”

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