GOOD FOR David Stockman, the foreign-aid ogre. In proposing to cut and reshape the Carter aid request for 1982, he did what a good budget director should: seize the ax fearlessly and compel the program people to confront a difficult issue. The merits of the issue are, however, something else.
Aid is not sacrosanct. But it happens to be a well tested if imperfect method of extending American influence, political and commercial, and of advancing the hardheaded American interest in a world focused on peaceful pursuits. Brushing past most of this, the Stockman proposal put into numbers some more or less troublesome ideas that have been floating around the Reagan administration since the campaign.
One of these ideas is that aid given directly serves, the United States better than aid given through international banks. This seems to be the prevailing administration philosophy, though in our view the record plainly shows that, if it's development you're after rather than a short-term political connection, the banks do it better. Mr. Stockman, however, would have had the United States break off its commitments, on which other donors have based their commitments, to those banks. Fortunately, that initiative was blocked: the administration will not be starting out by dishonoring solemn national undertakings in the aid field.
Another idea in the administration is that security assistance should be increased at the expense of development assistance. This has an easy appeal to people who tend to think mostly in military terms.But no one familiar with the endless debate over the proper combination would make the two compete against each other.
A third idea is that Uncle Sugar is too generous. Mr. Stockman would have cut $2.5 billion from the $8 billion requested for 1982 (up from $6 billion). Yet the extra funds sought by Mr. Carter cover mostly an increment for inflation and a pledge, the keystone of the donors' arch, to support the branch of the World Bank that assists the poorest of the poor. Those funds should not be cut.