WASHINGTON — Washington. -- I have never opposed a foreign-aid bill in my life, always believing that a rich America helping the hungry and hopeless of our troubled world would make for peace, which is infinitely cheaper than war.
So why am I so uneasy, so loath to support the plea by President Bush for the Congress to allocate another $645 million in aid to Russia and the other newly independent states of the former Soviet Union? Why am I troubled by the fact that this would bring to some $5 billion the U.S. aid given or pledged to the former ''evil empire'' since it fell apart?
Reason one is that I don't know, and President Bush doesn't know, to whom we're giving the money. The former Soviet prime minister Eduard Shevardnadze says a new political coup is certain in the former Soviet Union. Could we be pumping money into the resurgence of hard-line, anti-U.S. factions who still have deadly missiles targeted on the United States?
Reason two is that no one has displayed any plan for using the $80 billion in assistance already pledged by all nations to the former Soviet Union since September 1990. This does not include humanitarian gifts from private groups, or postponements of interest and principal payments on the huge foreign debt of the former Soviet Union. At a State Department conference of 47 nations here, the French representative noted that there is no machinery for distributing aid to the Soviet people who really need it.
Reason three is that I am not impressed by the warnings that, unless the U.S., Germany, Japan, the European Community, pony up billions more, chaos will strike the independent commonwealths, stirring up terror all across Western Europe, and even in the U.S.
This fear tactic cannot be reconciled with testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by CIA Director Robert M. Gates and Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. They said the independent provinces of the former Soviet Union no longer present the threat of a military attack on the U.S. They said the new commonwealths have cut their military procurement budgets by 80 percent, meaning that whatever upheaval may occur over food and other shortages, the U.S. will not be in military peril.
Reason four is that President Bush has long refused to personally defend his requests for more money for the new republics by mounting his bully pulpit and explaining why billions must go to the former Soviet Union rather than into pump-priming for jobs in America, or into the education that will make America not only competitive but pre-eminent in the world of industrial production and trade. Mr. Bush smarts under claims that he has spent too much time fiddling with the problems and needs of foreigners, and not enough on the painful economic needs of Americans.
The president clearly wants the Democrat-controlled Congress to act independently and increase aid to the former Soviet Union, shielding him from cries that he has sent American jobs abroad, and U.S. money right behind them.
Until George Bush tells me, clearly, where I don't have to read his lips, that the security of my grandchildren requires huge gifts to the ex-Soviet lands, I shall remain skeptical. I shall say that the futures of all the children I know require the expenditure on U.S. education and jobs programs of most of the billions that we propose to dole out to the former Soviet Union.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.