Administration’s dangerous position on foreign aid will exacerbate international health crises
In any other week, President Trump’s decision to slash military aid to Pakistan might have been a major story. But his move last Monday was hardly noticed after the volley of tweets in reaction to Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump wrote in his first tweet of 2018.
His administration followed up by announcing it would freeze nearly all security aid to Pakistan, a country he had praised as “amazing with tremendous opportunities” after winning the presidential election. And Trump could turn the screws even tighter down the line: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced plans to introduce a bill to end all foreign aid to Pakistan—a move that Trump then praised on Twitter as a “good idea.”
The current U.S. administration is understandably frustrated with Pakistan’s unreliability in fighting global terrorism. But slashing non-security aid to Pakistan, such as development aid, is a dangerously misguided retaliation. Paul’s proposal could damage millions of lives in Pakistan, where nearly a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Even more troubling is Trump’s promise to punish other countries in exactly the same way. Before the UN General Assembly voted on a condemnation of his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, he issued a stark warning: “We’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.”
President Trump’s hostility to foreign aid is nothing new: As a presidential candidate, he convinced millions of American voters that politicians in Washington were wasting their hard-earned dollars overseas. Trump’s rhetoric never quite matched reality, though. While it is true that the U.S. is the biggest overall contributor of international development aid, the U.S. actually spends a far smaller proportion of its economy on foreign aid than other developed nations. Scott Morris and Isaac Shapiro at the Center for Global Development estimated that the U.S. would actually need to spend $26 billion more in development aid in order to contribute its “fair share.” In order to match a country like Norway, the U.S. would need to spend six times what it does now.
Instead, though, Trump wants the gap between the U.S. and other developed nations in development aid as a share of the economy to grow wider than it has ever been: His 2018 budget proposed a 28 percent cut to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A bipartisan coalition of senators, including Republicans like Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, thankfully opposed Trump’s cuts. But the president’s recent comments indicate that he is going to continue his assault on development aid. The cuts he favors will be painful for vulnerable communities around the globe, since the U.S. remains the biggest international donor in absolute terms. And Trump has pushed them despite the evidence that foreign aid actually works. Development aid was instrumental in launching Asia’s Green revolution, eradicating small pox, and increasing child survival rates in the developing world. In 1990, nearly half the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day, according to the United Nations; by 2015, that proportion had fallen to just 14 percent. The UN thinks it is conceivable to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.
The leaders of wealthy nations should not see foreign aid as a reward that they dole out to countries that please them and withhold from those that don’t. They should consider it an investment, not just in the potential of impoverished peoples but also in international security. American aid money is crucial in containing international health crises: Without U.S. assistance, for example, the West African Ebola epidemic in 2014 might have spread further around the globe. U.S. aid money will also help the affected countries, like Guinea and Liberia, detect and prevent new Ebola outbreaks in the future. And while the relationship between poverty and terrorism is complex, “national poverty increases a country’s propensity to produce terrorism.” That finding comes from USAID, the agency whose budget Trump wants to gut. The president would be better served by listening to his nation’s aid workers, rather than eliminating them.
Hugh Evans is CEO of Global Citizen.
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