By Alan W. Dowd

A New Challenge

In a bid to transform America’s foreign-aid programs, the White House is calling for the creation of a new organization to oversee some $5 billion in grants aimed at nurturing and promoting US-style political and economic systems around the world. Funding for the program comes in addition to existing foreign-aid programs and will not cut into those administered by the State Department or US Agency for International Development. 

Dubbed the “Millennium Challenge Corporation,” the new organization will task fewer than 100 employees to review and administer grant requests from some of the world’s poorest countries—nations with annual per-capita incomes below $1445. (USAID, by contrast, employs nearly 10,000 staff.) A larger pool of developing nations will be invited to participate in the years ahead. Applicants will be ranked according to a number of key indicators of social-political progress, including fiscal policy, immunization statistics, access to public education, protection of civil liberties, deregulation, and openness to trade and investment. As President George W. Bush explained in his National Security Strategy, to receive Millennium grants, “Governments must fight corruption, respect basic human rights, embrace the rule of law, invest in health care and education, follow responsible economic policies, and enable entrepreneurship.” Moreover, as one administration official told the Wall Street Journal, “Countries that score high on corruption will be considered guilty until proven otherwise.”

Although applicant countries will, in effect, be competing for Millennium grants, traditional foreign aid will still be available through other federal agencies. “Think of it as a bonus pool,” a White House advisor explained to the New York Times.

Regardless of what critics or supporters call it, if the White House gets its way, the Millennium Challenge Corporation promises to transform US foreign aid. Not only will it increase foreign-aid spending and give America some bang for its buck, the program will equip the president with new tools to clean up the breeding grounds of terrorism and build what he calls the “infrastructure of democracy.”

The bold initiative is already gaining bipartisan support. As former Clinton Treasury official Steven Radelet put it in an interview with the New York Times, “It’s a very big change, and it makes sense.”

Recruiting Reforms

After fighting pitched battles all across the country for years, military recruiters have finally earned the right to contact high-school students and make their case for military service. The victory came in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act—the Bush administration’s signature education-reform bill that passed Congress with broad bipartisan support early last year. But only recently have school administrators become aware of the law’s military-recruiting provisions.   

Responding to widespread reports that military recruiters were being locked out of schools and deprived of contact information that is often freely given to colleges and businesses, the law directs high-school administrators to “provide military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as is provided…to post-secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers.” 

Military recruiters had argued that their inability to gain access to contact information was the single greatest obstacle to carrying out their recruiting mission. After a nationwide survey revealed that 600 high schools were banning military recruiting of all kinds and fully one-quarter of America’s 21,000 secondary schools were placing some sort of restriction on recruiting activities, Congress concluded that legislative action was the only remedy.

Under the law, a parent or student can opt out by directing the school not to release contact information. Moreover, the law doesn’t apply to schools with religious objections to military service; nor does it apply to schools that do not receive federal education dollars.

The law has its critics, but most Americans see it as a commonsense solution to a fixable problem. As one parent fumed in an Indianapolis Star analysis, “A credit card company can get all that pertinent information, but not our military? That’s crazy—this is our country.” Indeed, if the schoolhouse doors and phonebooks are open to employers, ring sellers, college recruiters and sporting-goods dealers, then they should be open to military recruiters. Keeping them closed doesn’t just deprive Uncle Sam of a possible recruit—it deprives thousands of young Americans of a world of opportunity that military service can offer.

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.