There's a lot to talk about with regard to last night's debate, but I want to drill down on this unforced error made by Team Romney. It's... subtle, but it's going to hurt Mitt in unexpected ways. Via the CNN debate transcript (via Ben Domenech's Transom) comes this fascinating discussion of alternative methods of funding humanitarian aid:
COOPER: Governor Romney, should foreign aid be eliminated?
ROMNEY: Foreign aid has several elements. One of those elements is defense, is to make sure that we are able to have the defense resources we want in certain places of the world. That probably ought to fall under the Department of Defense budget rather than a foreign aid budget.
Part of it is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are -- and think of that borrowed money on today (ph).
Quick response: Mitt Romney wants the ChiComs to do no-strings-attached humanitarian aid? Anybody who could convince them to do that wouldn't currently be at 25% in primary polling.
Seriously. The People's Republic of China. Humanitarian aid. Freedom House ranks them as Not Free: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were similarly blistering, in case anybody was inclined to treat the first link as partisan prejudice. The actions of the PRC regime encourage this kind of cross-spectrum opposition: for just one example, look at religious persecution issues. Between the PRC's hostility towards unacceptably independent Christian churches, its heavy-handed interference with Tibetan and other Buddhist sects, and the ongoing high-tension crackdown against Xinjiang's restive Muslim population, there's something for everybody to particularly dislike. Couple that with well-founded worries (from the Congressional Research Service) that current Chinese foreign aid is subordinated to its geopolitical ambitions:
Overall, China’s foreign assistance during the past several years has been driven primarily by Beijing’s desire to secure and transport natural resources and secondarily for diplomatic reasons. According to the NYU Wagner School study, during the 2002-2007 period, Africa received the greatest amount of loans and development assistance, followed by Latin America and Southeast Asia. The study suggests that China’s foreign aid activities in Africa and Latin America serve the PRC’s immediate economic interests, while those in Southeast Asia relate to longer term diplomatic or strategic objectives. In Africa and Southeast Asia, Chinese infrastructure and public works projects constitute the most common form of aid, while in Latin America, where some countries are more developed, PRC-sponsored natural resource development activities are more prominent.
...and you have to ask: what the heck was Mitt Romney thinking? He just told the People's Republic of China that, if Romney's elected, the PRC's current program of building hegemony on the cheap will be encouraged by the US government! Yes, I know that Romney's people will say that's not what Romney meant*, but that's what the PRC's leadership is going to hear. A fundamental lack of common cultural referents works both ways, you know.
Moe Lane (crosspost)
*I originally wrote that as "Yes, I know that's not what Romney meant," until I realized: no, I don't know that that was not what Romney meant. I never know what Romney really means. That's the problem.