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Foreign aid is something that makes America great

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Over the past several weeks in a flurry of tweets, President Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut foreign aid to a wide range of countries if they fail to support his policies. While this may seem at first glance to align with his “America First” motto, the reality is that his approach fundamentally misunderstands the role of aid in US foreign policy.

Despite being less than one percent of the federal budget, our development and humanitarian investments play a critical role in protecting U.S. national security, and promoting American interests. Even if these twitter missives are more political theater than administration foreign policy, these threats to withdraw foreign aid in a tit-for-tat manner can have harmful consequences for the U.S.

{mosads}First, the core function of foreign aid is to build partnerships over time, and foster collaboration to solve urgent global challenges when they arise – especially before they can reach our own shores. Take, for example, the Ebola crisis. Ebola was not only a threat to several West African countries, but also to the U.S. It was because of the U.S.’s existing global health partnerships in the region, and our urgent deployment of aid workers, that we were able to stop the epidemic before it crossed our own borders. Global challenges like this one impact not just people overseas, but could have a big impact on Americans as well.


Second, taking away foreign aid makes the world more dangerous for everyone. Take the case of foreign aid to Palestine, where the U.S. helps provide basic humanitarian assistance for refugees. Taking these resources away would push more Palestinian families to rely on Hamas, thus empowering a militant organization the U.S. staunchly opposes. In addition, U.S. development resources are currently playing a critical role in some of the most fragile parts of the world countering violent extremism. To back off this commitment would hurt global and U.S. security.

Third, as these threats to foreign aid and our diplomatic relationships continue, they will undermine U.S. soft power around the globe and exclude us from advancing our interests in global discussions. President Trump’s public threats — even if the aid continues to flow — mean that countries will look elsewhere for reliable partnerships. The countries filling the void may not always be aligned with U.S. interests. We are already seeing signs of this happening — with Pakistan signaling that a pullback of aid from the U.S. would mean a stronger alliance with China. With other countries stepping up where we step back, the U.S. will quickly lose its seat at negotiating tables – and important global decisions will happen without Americans or their interests in the room.

Finally, U.S. foreign aid serves our economic and commercial interests. In 2015, American businesses sold 51 percent of their products to customers in developing countries. South Korea, for example, once a US aid recipient, is now one of America’s largest export markets. When done right, foreign aid is a small investment that spurs economic growth, creates millions of new customers for American goods, and expands opportunities for American businesses around the world.

While President Trump’s blunt threats to cut foreign aid may seem to only affect people overseas, the reality is that foreign aid promotes American interests and values. The argument that cutting foreign aid puts “America first” just doesn’t add up. These cuts would make us less safe, less influential, and less prosperous. Whether these threats to cut foreign aid are hollow political talking points, or actual Trump administration policy remains to be seen. But either way, they are one more signal to the world that they should look elsewhere for productive and consistent partnership.

Cindy Huang is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development where she works on issues related to reforming U.S. development policy. Huang served in the Obama administration as the director of policy of the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations and as deputy vice president at the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Tags Aid Donald Trump Foreign policy of the United States Global politics International relations Presidency of Donald Trump United States foreign aid

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