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Dispelling a Few of the Myths About US Foreign Aid

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AMERICANS have always been enamored by the power of myth. Bigfoot. The Bermuda Triangle. Elvis sightings. And no myth has provided more enduring fodder for those eager to have the United States abandon its international leadership than the notion that foreign assistance has no positive effect in support of US national interests.

Few realize how well American foreign-assistance programs have worked. When the Marshall Plan was announced in 1947, only 18 percent of Americans supported that visionary US effort to rebuild war-torn Europe. The Marshall Plan was America's first real venture into foreign assistance.

Today many agree that the Marshall Plan was this country's single most successful foreign-policy initiative ever.

Assisting in the reconstruction of Europe shored up prosperity and political stability as a bulwark against communist expansion and encouraged European integration. Looking back, it is clear that the Marshall Plan was a sound investment. It strengthened our closest allies and created our best trading partners and new donors to join our efforts to create other areas of political and economic stability.

In the 1960s and '70s, many pundits decried US assistance to South Korea, Taiwan, India, and Mexico. Conventional wisdom was that these countries offered almost no promise for economic development. Conventional wisdom proved wrong again. US assistance programs helped produce a remarkable transformation, ushering in a period of unprecedented growth in these countries' economies. US technical assistance to researchers and farmers during the 1970s helped lead to the ``green revolution'' in India, sparking the most dramatic increase in agricultural yields in the history of mankind. If food production had not increased, many would have faced starvation, and the US would have been called on to assist these hungry people at great cost. With its increased food production, India has remained politically stable, and its population of 900 million now constitutes one of the most promising marketplaces for US goods.

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