Michael Gerson was, until last month, George W. Bush's speechwriter. His views are hard to pigeonhole – perhaps compassionate conservative comes closest – (see this profile in the New Yorker): he is strongly religious, anti-choice on abortion, and instinctively in favour of free markets. But perhaps his defining interest is his passionate belief in the need for the US to increase foreign assistance, for both moral reasons and out of self interest, especially in the battle against infectious disease and against poverty. He more than anyone else was responsible for persuading President Bush to adopt a $15 billion program to combat HIV and AIDS around the world. His former colleagues used to refer to him as the conscience of the White House.
The Bush administration has increased foreign assistance at a higher rate than at any time since the Marshall Plan. A lot of that has gone to Iraq and Afghanistan, but a lot of it has gone to fighting AIDS and malaria and to the Millennium Challenge Account. The increases have been dramatic, but the need for more [aid] is even greater. Congress has not always been cooperative in increasing foreign assistance to the levels we need. So I think there’s a need for constant public pressure to make the point that foreign assistance, when it’s done properly, is not an altruistic add-on to American foreign policy. It’s a centerpiece commitment of our national security strategy. It shows our values in the world. We’re different from our Islamist opponents because we believe that everyone has value, or worth, and that worth is not determined by distance or culture.
Europeans tend to assume – wrongly – that Republican administrations are less generous in foreign assistance than Democratic administrations, because in European politics the left are identified with a more internationalist outlook than the right. That is not true in American politics, not least because of the moral attitude of the religious right who make up an influential part of Republican support.
Let us hope that in his new role in the Council on Foreign Relations, he will continue to press the case – for which there is growing bipartisan support – that foreign assistance is both a centerpiece commitment of national security and a moral duty.