Humanitarian aid relieves hunger. Good governance prevents it.
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The Trump administration’s militarily focused foreign assistance budget, with its ill-considered decimation of America’s singular and irreplaceable diplomatic role, will make our country weaker. Among other crucial international endeavors, these proposed cuts will curtail our ability to respond to humanitarian crises around the world. Even worse, and more short-sighted, these cuts will prevent the United States from providing the advice and guidance that prevents other countries from collapsing into failed states resulting in the very conditions that foster terrorism and necessitate humanitarian relief.

There remains strong bipartisan support for American generosity by members of congress and foreign policy professionals. Further, within our military, there is no serious debate that foreign aid is a key tool necessary to the vital job of keeping Americans safe and prosperous. On March 22, Greg Gottleib, the acting USAID assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the ongoing global humanitarian crisis in, among other countries, South Sudan.


He correctly advocated for increased humanitarian assistance to prevent further starvation but did not have an opportunity to press home the case that such famines are always a result of bad governance, and the surest way to prevent the failed states that foment these catastrophes is robust funding and a renewed commitment to American efforts to help other countries build better governments.


For a Congress committed to reducing costs and reforming aid, purchasing and distributing food and medicine seems straight forward: you invest a given amount and can reasonably measure saved lives while engendering goodwill for the United States. It is quantifiable in a time when Congress wants to know what it is buying.

Teaching and encouraging good governance, on the other hand, takes longer and it is harder to count. It is not impossible to quantify the value of better government but it does take time. International governance programs are a long-term investment. If done well, the improved foreign government will feed its own citizens so we and our allies don’t have to.

Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has established itself as a global leader in promoting governance reforms around the world. The last two decades have shown that asymmetrical terrorist threats cannot be defeated on the battlefield alone. Countries victimized by terrorists must fight back by making their society preferable to the extremist alternative.

The American military, along with our allies, understand that assisting unstable countries build responsive governments is a key component to countering violent extremism. Corruption and other governance failures undermine state legitimacy and drive young people toward extremist recruiters.

The United States is very good at helping our allies become better at governing. This work requires time, commitment, innovation, and funding. While we must continue to respond to humanitarian crises with emergency assistance, failing to address the root causes of these crises will only lead to greater suffering for citizens and cost U.S. taxpayers more as the cycle continues.

The administration’s proposed budget cuts to USAID and the State Department will not only lead to further suffering in countries facing hunger and disease, but will also harm our efforts to counter extremism and further the threats facing our military in already failed states.

Glenn Cowan is chief executive officer of Democracy International.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.