Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) defends foreign aid in The Washington Post:
At this time of budget crisis, a United States senator defending foreign aid might well be advised to get examined by a political consultant if not a mental health professional. But right now it's more urgent than ever that those of us who believe in robust American leadership step up and articulate the dangers of American retrenchment. Many question whether we can afford foreign aid and development investments, but the reality—however hard to swallow—is that we can't afford not to.
We can't afford not to what? Maybe we should reallocate some of that foreign aid money to Senate staff, so Kerry can afford to hire a proofreader. He continues:
Energetic global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries. It amplifies America's voice and extends our reach. In a world growing more not less interdependent, slashing foreign aid and development investments is a formula for isolation and shrinking influence. America can't opt out of a networked world....
We no longer have the luxury of isolationism as a fallback, though I don't believe we really ever did....
Why do we do this? Because it's who we are. It's in America's DNA—from the Marshall Plan to our response to the earthquakes in Pakistan and Haiti....
By showing the world that we comprehend, and share, their destiny we engender goodwill and strengthen critical partnerships.
According to Kerry, foreign aid is not an act of selflessness, because it is in our strategic interest. It is in our strategic interest because it shows how selfless we are, and the world will be grateful for our beneficence. And no matter the payoff, we would do it anyway, because that's just who we are. The closest Kerry comes to a coherent argument is a 1961 quote from John F. Kennedy:
Widespread poverty and chaos lead to a collapse of existing political and social structures which would inevitably invite the advance of totalitarianism into every weak and unstable area. Thus our own security would be endangered and our prosperity imperiled.
Let's put aside the fact that the totalitarian threat to which Kennedy was referring no longer exists. This rationale for being social worker to the world is so broad that it could justify just about any "investment" in fighting poverty and preventing chaos. Kerry emphasizes that "foreign aid programs and foreign policy initiatives...barely make up 1 percent of the annual budget." But however small the cost might be in the context of the entire budget, Kerry cannot identify any measurable national security benefits to weigh against it—a failure highlighted by his lazy conflation of foreign aid cuts with "isolationism," as if the only way Americans engage with the rest of the world is through forcibly extracted charity.
More on foreign aid here.