The Cable

Thursday, Bloody Thursday: Bono calls out senator over aid cuts

Add artist and activist Bono to the list of development leaders protesting the proposed cuts in foreign aid funding put forth by Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad. The U2 frontman pleaded for Washington to resist Conrad's cuts during an impassioned speech Wednesday night in Washington.

A host of senior officials and lawmakers have come out against the budget resolution Conrad's committee approved last Thursday, which would cut $4 billion from the $58.5 billion President Obama is requesting for the State Department and the foreign assistance budget next year. That $4 billion is almost all of the increase Obama wants for foreign aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the entire development community have protested the cuts, saying that the foreign aid community needs more money to defend the weakest world citizens and protect U.S. national security.

"Development gets even less if Senator Conrad gets his way," Bono told a crowd of generals, politicians, and other Washington glitterati at the Ritz Carlton, where the Atlantic Council was holding its annual awards dinner and gala. "So you peaceniks in fatigues have a job to do over the next few weeks."

Bono was receiving one of the top awards at the dinner and praised everyone else in the U.S. policy establishment for acknowledging the importance of development work.

Referring to "that peacenik Robert Gates" and "that other well known hippie Jim Jones," Bono pointed out that some of the greatest advocates for increased development assistance were military men, highlighting the interdependence of military and development efforts in the third world.

"What I think General Jones, Secretaries Gates and Clinton, Senator McCain and others are getting at is that somehow these worlds -- defense and development -- are inextricably linked. They're not the same thing; they're very different, in fact; but they're linked, and we need to see them as part of the same picture. They're both essential if we really want to build a world that's more secure, more prosperous, and more just."

"I'm not suggesting we do each other's jobs. Far from it. I'm not suggesting that soldiers start wearing flowers in their hair, or carrying stethoscopes and fertilizers in their packs. Neither am I saying that peaceniks like me should put on combat helmets. No. There's a bright line that separates what we do from what many of you do. But our ultimate goals are the same goals, so let's not work at cross purposes."

Bono is well known and highly regarded in aid circles for being able to delink partisan politics from the debate over development and poverty. He founded and leads the anti-poverty advocacy group the ONE Campaign, which has worked hand in hand with the administrations of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and his message to the largely military crowd at the Atlantic Council event was finely tuned.

Clinton followed Bono's speech and spoke about his own work to fight poverty in Africa. Clinton's speech was long and somewhat rambling, and our sources think they know why: They saw him taking shots backstage during Bono's talk with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Other speakers at the event included Sen. John McCain, retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones, who poked fun at himself by alluding to a Jewish joke he made last week at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, for which he later apologized.

"Tempting as it might be, I think I've used up my quota of jokes for the week, so I'll pass," said Jones.

LESLIE E. KOSSOFF/AFP/Getty Images

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