Senator John Kerry today unveiled plans to offer financial assistance to promote democracy and reforms in the Arab world.
Although he did not put a dollar figure on the amount he is seeking, the Massachusetts Democrat called for "significant financial commitment" of new money to be earmarked for economists, election experts, and aid to people in the Arab world who are pushing for a historic transformation of their region.
“Events this powerful demand a response of equal power," Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Our commitment now to the ordinary people who are risking their lives to win human rights and democracy will be remembered for generations in the Arab world. We have to get this moment right. We are working here in the Senate with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to create a package of financial assistance to help turn the new Arab awakening into a lasting rebirth."
Kerry was speaking at a hearing about the State Department's budget at a time when Republicans have vowed to cut foreign aid funding. But he said the aid package has bipartisan support.
"We have not worked out the numbers or the details yet, but I am convinced a significant financial commitment by the US to assist in this monumental and uplifting transformation is key to its long-term outcome and our relationship to it," he said. “I understand that we face a budget crisis in our own country. But we can either pay now to help brave people build a better, democratic future for themselves or we will certainly pay later with increased threats to our own national security."
But Kerry did not say how the new fund would relate to programs that are already in the State Department budget for promoting democracy and reform in the Middle East, such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative and contributions to the National Endowment for Democracy.
It is unclear what impact US aid will have at this stage on people who have already toppled governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and appear to be on the verge of driving Libya's Muammar Qaddafi from power.
Kerry spoke before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the State Department's 2011 budget request.
Kerry also urged consideration of a no-fly zone over Libya, where Qaddafi has attacked protesters with militias backed by helicopters and warplanes.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.