31. Editorial Note

On February 27, 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig offered remarks, concerning the Ronald Reagan administration’s foreign assistance program, to reporters assembled at the Old Executive Office Building. After characterizing foreign assistance as a “very minor” but “vitally important” item within the larger federal budget, Haig noted that while the Department of State, cognizant of the need for overall budget reductions, had agreed to cut foreign aid, the United States would, nevertheless, “honor all of the commitments” it had made. He continued: “We are going to be able, we are confident, to preserve the humanitarian and developmental objectives of our overall aid program. And most importantly of all, we consider that we’ll be able to meet the strategic objectives of the United States for which the aid program is itself conducted, on behalf of which.

“We anticipate that this is going to require the reductions that I’ve talked about—improved management of our foreign assistance programs, the elimination of a number of ‘nice to have’ but nonessential items, and in some instances the stretching out of obligatory payments within overall commitments that we found existed at the time we assumed responsibility.

“With respect to the last point—stretching out—I want to emphasize that we are in an evolutionary way tending toward greater emphasis on bilateral rather than multilateral assistance. Now we hope to do that, I emphasize again, in an evolutionary not a revolutionary way. That doesn’t mean we’re turning our backs on multilateral lending institutions and assistance institutions, hardly at all.

“But it’s been our experience that we achieve greater precision and greater value to the American taxpayers if we emphasize bilateral assistance.

“This happens also to be very consistent with the Republican Party platform adopted and voted for by the American people. Why have we accepted this reduced burden, recognizing that foreign assistance has been the focal point of reductions for the previous administration, recognizing that in a post-Vietnam America there has been great reluctance to indulge in the kind of hyperactivity assistance programs that we had witnessed since the end of the Second World War?

“We’re doing this first and foremost because it’s our conviction in the Department of State that the overall effectiveness of the American foreign policy is intimately related to this nation’s ability to manage its internal domestic economic affairs with discipline and with effectiveness. As one who sat abroad for 5 years and watched the growing malaise in our economy begin to influence the effectiveness of our international leadership—and I’m talking about such issues as runaway [Page 108] double-digit inflation, declining productivity, declining competitiveness of American goods abroad, and what was perceived to be by our foreign friends an inability to manage effectively our energy program. All had a severe impact on America’s ability to influence vital national interests abroad, certainly were a contributory to the declining value of the U.S. dollar, and, in some instances, foreign nations perceived for one reason or another that we were literally managing some of these problems to result in placing the burden in energy and inflation on their shoulders.

“And so I consider that the American program and President Reagan’s program to get our economy back on the track once again is not only of vital interest to domestic American interests, but it has a profound impact on America’s effectiveness abroad.” (Department of State Bulletin, April 1981, page 21)

Following his statement, Haig responded to questions posed by the assembled reporters. The complete text of Haig’s remarks are ibid., pages 21–23.