Obama, Romney Speak to Different Priorities at Clinton Summit
Presidential opponents address human trafficking and foreign aid before philanthropic audience
NEW YORK CITY – President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday worked the philanthropic crowd, as leaders in the development and financial worlds met for the final day of the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference.
In separate remarks to conference attendees, Romney highlighted the need for efficient use of foreign aid, while Obama spotlighted the scourge of human trafficking.
To some extent, both men seemed to share the concerns of other world leaders and experts in international relations, who were simultaneously gathering at the opening of the 67th United Nations General Assembly meeting, taking place not far from the conference arranged by former President Bill Clinton.
“Too often our passion for charity is tempered by our sense that our aid is not always effective. We see stories of cases where American aid has been diverted to corrupt governments,” Romney said, echoing a UN concern that multi-year declines in aid to developing countries might derail meeting 2015 anti-poverty goals.
A sobering report on Millennium Development Goals, the UN’s poverty reduction targets, released ahead of the General Assembly meeting, shows a $167 billion gap between the aid disbursed and the amounts committed to by development partners. Sixteen of the 23 donor nations, including the U.S., reduced their aid last year, citing the fiscal constraints of the economic crisis, according to the report.
It’s one of the rare times that the UN has chosen to openly shame partner nations that are contributing to the disbursement deficit, a UN spokesperson said by phone.
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In his remarks, Romney emphasized the much-debated idea that aid should not be given to nations without some strings attached.
“Work,” he said in naming at least one condition a Romney administration would require of Middle Eastern nations receiving U.S. aid. “That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women.”
Obama’s remarks concerning human trafficking – or, “modern slavery” -- struck at the core of an issue UN members had addressed in preliminary proceedings.
“When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family -- girls my daughters’ age -- runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists -- that’s slavery,” Obama said during his remarks, delivered less than an hour after giving his annual speech to the General Assembly meeting. “It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.”
UN members on Monday recommitted to the “Rule of Law,” or the principle that individuals and governments are accountable to all laws, which are to be equally enforced by an independently governed authority.
Addressing human trafficking was one of several crucial issues that United Nation Development Program administrator Helen Clark advocated for in working in the developing world.
“UNDP witnesses how fundamental the rule of law is to the quality of people’s lives and for the success of national development efforts,” Clark said Monday. “Where laws protect women from violence and discrimination, their lives are immeasurably improved, providing a basis for full empowerment.”
At the end of his speech Tuesday, Obama told the story of Sheila White, a young woman who grew up in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City, and fled an abusive home, only to fall into sexual slavery “with a guy who said he’d protect her.”
White, just 15 years old at the start of her enslavement, endured years of torture from men who “raped her and beat her, and burned her with irons,” Obama said. She escaped with the help of a nonprofit and later helped the state legislature pass an anti-trafficking law in 2007.
Both Romney and Obama’s remarks were well received with an audience assembled by Clinton, who weeks earlier endorsed Obama’s reelection and warned against sending a Republican back to the White House.
Next week, the two candidates will participate in a more partisan exchange of ideas, during their first presidential debate Oct. 3.