The theme of U.S. assistance overseas, whether it be militarily or economically, was the thrust of the discussion, which was followed by a presidential campaign roundtable featuring Republican Al Cardenas and Democrat Anne Lewis.
When asked about the Rand Paul sponsored amendment — which would have blocked foreign assistance to Libya, Egypt and Pakistan — that was recently rejected by the Senate (in an 81-10 vote), Zoellick said in the case of Egypt, funding should be conditional.
"I don't believe we should do things as before," he said.
"Before" means when the Middle Eastern nation was led by dictator Hosni Mubarek, who was toppled by the insurgent Arab Spring uprising a year and a half ago. Egypt is now led by Mohammed Morsi, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although foreign aid constitutes less than one percent of the U.S. government's budget, surveys of the American people generally find that it's extremely unpopular. Sesno, formerly with CNN and now the director of the George Washington University School of Media & Public Affairs, asked if foreign aid was a a good investment.
Zinni referenced the Marshall Plan (instated after World War II), when the U.S. government gave financial support to help rebuild European economies, in part to prevent the spread of Soviet communism.
"Looking back now, it was an investment," he said.
Zinni relayed an anecdote, saying when people outside the U.S. conjure up an image of an American, it's one of a soldier in full combat gear, whereas the image of a Chinese person is an investor.
"It caused me to think — who is exerting greater influence?" he asked.
Also on the panel was Sylvia Burwell, the president of the Walmart Foundation, previously the president of the Global Development Program with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the former chief-of-staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin in the Clinton administration.
Burwell discussed how Walmart is working to help the world’s poorest people lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty.
Several hundred people were in attendance at the event, which comes just four days before the presidential candidates will discuss foreign policy in South Floria.