Food Assistance to Africa

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Jan. 16, 2003
Location: Washington, DC

SEN. BIDEN: I'm sorry I'm late. I'll be very brief. I'm sure everyone's gone over the numbers. We're talking about 40 million people who are at risk of starvation. We're talking about 19 countries that are real serious circumstances. We're talking about the fact that only 55 percent of the food requirements of the World Food Program, the appeal that was made, have been met. And we're talking about a continent that has an incredibly complicating endemic called AIDS. And we—you heard the call relating to security as well as humanitarian need.

I'd like to suggest one other thing. One of the issues that we're always asked about in the area of national security and foreign policy is why does the rest of the world hate us? Why—why are we—you know, why do people blame us? Well, part of the reason is that we're the biggest dog in the kennel, and, you know, they usually don't like the big dog in the kennel. The American people are very generous. But, you know, we're the one riding the—driving the Lexus these days, and everyone else is riding around in a compact car. So that's human nature. That's part of it.

But one of the things, when you cut through it all, is there's a call on our part whenever we find something of incredibly urgent need for us, we expect—as we should, in my view—the rest of the world to say, okay, we understand your immediate urgent problem, and we'll weigh in. But, you know, there's two sides to that. Other parts of the world have urgent problems, other countries have urgent problems that are not nearly as urgent for us. And they wonder why we don't jump in, why we're not there.

Some of the expectations of us are unrealistic internationally. Some of the things—I have never met a foreign leader who doesn't think we're his biggest problem and his only solution.

But there are other areas where are totally in our capacity; totally in our capacity and within our interest, our naked self- interest. Lawton Chiles, God love him, sat next to him for years on the floor of the Senate. He used to have an expression. He says, "It's wonderful politics when conscience and convenience cross paths."

This is where conscience and convenience cross paths. This is doable; this is the right thing to do; this sends a message that we are concerned about not just ourself in a significant way; and lastly and maybe most importantly, it is something that is of humanitarily urgent need. And we are not asking for such a sacrifice that it won't benefit significant portions of America's population. This food is going to be supplied. It's supplied by people we're asking to grow it. I can't think of a circumstance where conscience and convenience are so clearly in tune. We should do it just based upon the conscience side of this equation, but it's also very much in our interest to do this—very much in our interest to do this.

And so I hope—I hope we will respond, because it is a neglect that is glaring. And it's not just our responsibility, it's other nations' responsibility, as well. But the fact of the matter is, we are the most capable—the most capable—of filling the void. And so I compliment Elijah, I compliment Tom and others who have led the fight on this. It is my hope, although I must tell you, it's not my expectation, it is my hope we will actually respond and do something.

Thank you.