We misstated Rep. Tom Harkin's amendment to a foreign-aid appropriations authorization bill, when we commented Monday on the House's assault on the World Bank. The Harkin amendment does not single out specific countries. The real trouble lies, as we noted, with the much more drastic and explicit language that the House is currently trying to make the Senate accept in the appropriation bill.
A LARGE MAJORITY of the House of Representatives had drawn up a list of the countries that it doesn't want the World Bank to help. It has added a list of agricultural projects that it doesn't want the bank to underwrite. And it has hammered these lists into the foreign-aid appropriations bill - "a very serious mistake," as President Carter correctly put it in his Thursday press conference.
This majority in the House consists of a highly peculiar alliance. There are the people who never liked foreign aid much anyway, and don't see why the United States should help anyone but its military allies. There are the people who think that they would advance the cause of human rights by cutting off aid to several of the world's most unfortunate populations. There are also some people whose congressional districts produce crops under pressure from foreign competition. All of these disparate forces have joined in a grand attempt to make a fundamental change - for the worse - in the World Bank and the way it does business.
There are a lot of advantages to the United States in filtering foreign aid through a genuinely international agency like the World Bank. It's a way to get loans to countries that need them desperately, without getting them tangled in the conflicting foreign policies of the rich countries that put up the money. The bank, as an international neutral, can be a lot tougher in setting performance standards for recipients than American diplomats can. It's precisely that neutrality that the House amendments would destroy.
The trouble started early last summer, when President Carter's human-rights crusade got out of hand at the Capitol. An lowa Democrat, Rep. Tom Harkin, wrote a successful amendment to the foreign-aid authorization requiring the U.S. representatives at the bank to oppose aid to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Uganda. It's language that the bank can live with, but it set a bad precedent. When the appropriation bill came up, Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) attached the same list of countries to it - with an interesting difference. He invoked much stronger language, declaring that no U.S. aid was to go to them in any way, directly or indirectly. Other amendments piled din, adding Mozambique, Angola and Cuba to the list in a sort of congressional unpopularity contest. Then a further amendment added the same prohibition to any development project anywhere that involves the production of citrus fruit, palm oil or sugar.
The president of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, sent a letter to President Carter pointing out that the bank could not accept money under those conditions. They would violate the bank's agreements with other countries. Mr. McNamara didn't say it, but these amendments would also constitute and invitation to any rich country with an axe to grind - the Arab oil states, for example, in their economic war with Israel.
The North-South dialogue between the rich countries andthe poor has not, in general, been much of a success. The World Bank is the major exception to that melancholy pattern. It is in business, and it is effective. But now the House is attempting to impose on it political limits of a sort that the rest of the world would see - altogether justly - as vengeful, parochial and mean-spirited. The Senate has repeatedly refused to accept these amendments and, with the collapse of the conference a week ago, the bill goes back to the House floor for another test. Perhaps this time it will turn out differently. President Carter is working diligently and publicty to change the House's mind. He is calling on Congress to return to a long tradition of American aid to the bank and those countrieswhose poverty is as great as the United States' wealth.