Trump steps up threats to foreign aid

Trump steps up threats to foreign aid
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE has stepped up the use of foreign aid cuts as a foreign policy tool.

The Trump administration moved on Thursday to suspend security assistance to Pakistan, signaling a new attempt to pressure Islamabad to crack down on terrorist networks operating in the country.

The announcement, which came at a State Department press briefing, made good on a threat leveled by Trump earlier this week. The president had lashed out Monday against Pakistan in a tweet, accusing Islamabad of giving the U.S. “nothing” in return for billions of dollars in aid. 

Trump followed up on the tweet with another on Tuesday threatening assistance to Palestinians unless they agreed to restart negotiations with Israel — an endeavor the Palestinians had abandoned after Trump broke with precedent in December and said that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the U.S. would cease transfers of security funding to Pakistan and halt any deliveries of military equipment to the country. The exact dollar amounts of the cuts were still being hammered out, Nauert said, though she noted they would be significant.

The move came after years of U.S. frustration with Pakistan, which is seen as unwilling to fully pursue terrorist networks. U.S. officials have long decried Islamabad’s failure to eliminate safe havens for militant groups like the Taliban or the affiliated Haqqani network, while also grappling with how to ensure its cooperation as a counterterrorism partner.

Pakistani officials have countered that the U.S. has failed to acknowledge Islamabad’s efforts to counter militant groups.

At the same time, concern about the Pakistani government’s treatment of religious minorities has mounted. On Thursday, the State Department added the country to a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom.”

The Trump administration’s decision to freeze security assistance to Pakistan was greeted warmly by conservatives, who have questioned the efficacy of giving aid to foreign governments that they say appear to be unwilling to help — or are even antagonistic toward — Washington.

Among those who supported the move was Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump McCain: Trump plays into 'Putin's hands' by attacking Montenegro, questioning NATO obligations MORE (R-Ky.). Paul applauded an earlier decision by the Trump administration to withhold $255 million in military aid to Pakistan, and has pushed this week for a measure that would permanently eliminate U.S. aid to the country. 

Paul has argued that the money spent on foreign aid to countries like Pakistan should instead be used to fund infrastructure projects in the U.S., and plans to introduce a bill to that effect.

In a Friday statement, Paul applauded the Pakistani security assistance freeze, and urged members of Congress to redirect those funds “to a better use.”

“The United States should not give one penny to countries who burn our flag and chant ‘death to America,' ” he said.

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungBipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border The Hill's Morning Report — Trump: `A very great moment in the history of the world’ MORE (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has been a vocal advocate for reforming U.S. foreign assistance, said that Islamabad’s failure to crack down on militant groups operating within Pakistan’s borders made it impossible to justify continuing security aid.

“No country or entity is automatically entitled to U.S. assistance, and we have a responsibility to scrutinize U.S. foreign assistance to ensure it furthers the interests and values of Americans,” Young said in a statement.

He added: “If the Pakistani government is not taking every possible step to deny terrorists support and safe haven, I cannot justify to taxpayers why Pakistan should receive U.S. security assistance.”

The U.S. has provided nearly $34 billion in security assistance and military reimbursements to Pakistan since 2002.

It’s unclear what the impact of the Trump administration’s decision will be on Pakistan. The amount of aid provided per year has steadily decreased since 2013, meaning that the freeze could have less of an effect on Islamabad.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s military said on Geo TV Thursday that Islamabad would not be coerced by the assistance freeze. He said that Pakistan wants to “move forward through cooperative engagement” with the U.S., but added that the decision would not affect the country’s financial situation.

"Pakistan had made alternate arrangements in advance," the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said.

Trump has long threatened aid cuts more generally. When the United Nations (U.N.) voted in December to rebuke Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, for example, Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Dem pollster: Haley would be 'very strong' presidential candidate Watchdog: First lady spokeswoman may have violated Hatch Act with ‘MAGA’ tweet MORE warned that they would be taking stock of those countries that voted against the U.S. position, and suggested that aid cuts could follow.

Likewise, Trump’s threat to slash funding to the Palestinian Authority this week came amid frustrations over stalled efforts to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, who have said that the U.S. administration’s decision on Jerusalem meant Washington couldn’t be trusted to act as broker in the talks.

The Trump administration is not the first to put U.S. assistance on the line over actions by foreign governments deemed unfavorable.

Former President Obama in 2011 threatened to cut aid to Nigeria as the country’s legislature considered a measure that would impose harsh penalties for homosexual behavior. 

And in 1990, as the U.S. sought approval of a U.N. Security Council resolution pressuring then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to withdraw forces from Kuwait, the George H.W. Bush administration warned Yemen’s delegate that a “no” vote could cost the country tens of millions of dollars in aid from Washington.

“What’s abnormal [about the Trump administration] is the sort of bullying and overt threats — particularly threats that are often not carried through,” said James Dobbins, a former State Department official who most recently served as the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan under the Obama administration. “It’s kind of a playground approach, as opposed to a paring knife.”

Experts and former officials say that such high-profile threats are unlikely to change a foreign government’s behavior. 

“Threatening aid cutoffs as a way of affecting behavior is usually unproductive, at least in the short term,” Dobbins told The Hill, adding that the long-term impacts may or may not be more effective.

“I think that these kinds of threats, especially when they’re demonstrated to be ineffective, tend to diminish [the United States’] influence over time,” he said.

Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served on former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s policy planning staff, said that such threats to aid run the risk of triggering a nationalist backlash in foreign countries, because of the perception that the U.S. is trying to pressure their governments.

Trump’s threats, Patrick said, typifies his transactional view of international relations. Patrick said that, as a negotiating tactic, Trump’s threats to cut off aid to certain countries look like a high-stakes real estate deal, but ignore diplomatic realities. 

“The threat to cut off aid is a little bit reminiscent of high-stakes bargaining or threats in the real estate business, and that works because you can always walk away,” he said. “The problem with diplomacy is that it’s a repeated game. The countries are still there.”