America first is America last in shaping our foreign assistance

America first is America last in shaping our foreign assistance
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Once again, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE has called for ending foreign assistance to countries that he deems have disrespected the United States. Once again, Trump shows he has little regard or understanding for the tools in the American foreign policy toolbox. Foreign assistance is one of the most important ways we can protect our interests, promote democratic governance, grow our economy and show the world that we are still its most indispensible country.

If President Trump succeeds in applying his “America first” ideology to our foreign assistance program, no single thing would more quickly dethrone the United States as a world superpower and global guarantor of peace. And nothing else would more quickly facilitate the rise of China and Russia as revisionist powers. Thankfully, there are members of Congress and hard working civil servants in the State Department, Pentagon and countless American businessmen and women, philanthropists and voters who understand the value of foreign assistance to American policy goals.


Foreign assistance provides critical aid to millions of people across the globe. But this isn't just welfare, this is about building strong allies, opening emerging markets to American investment and products, and holding back the forces of terrorism seeking to recruit the vulnerable. Moreover, foreign assistance done properly shows the world, now more skeptical of U.S. leadership thanks to President Trump, just what Americans are all about.

There is a bipartisan commitment to his that has extended back generations. From Truman’s Marshall Plan to Eisenhower’s commitment to humanitarian food assistance to Kennedy’s Peace Corps, to Clinton and Carter’s efforts to advance human rights, to Obama’s Power Africa and Feed the Future, to George W. Bush’s tremendous leadership on Pepfar, virtually every American president of both political parties have recognized that helping people globally was a valuable tool in American foreign policy and American leadership in the world.

I find it incomprehensible that President Trump seems to want to unilaterally disarm American foreign policy power in the name of America first. One special such effort, for me as the former secretary of agriculture, is the American led Green Revolution in the 1960s that increased crop production globally that saved millions from starvation. The U.S. has historically been the largest supporter of providing food assistance to people impacted by natural and man made disasters.

Are we to believe that by withholding food aid and letting people starve, we will be putting ourselves in a better geostrategic position? What makes us unique among nations is that we don't do this kind of thing. Our food assistance efforts alone have helped farmers grow more food, make more money and stabilize economies of many developing nations, and earned us important friendships that serve our strategic interests. Imagine applying President Trump's loyalty test in the years following World War Two. There could have been no Marshall Plan to rebuild Germany and Western Europe, there could have been no NATO alliance, or vibrant democratic states holding the line against the scourge of global communism.

America stands for more than quid pro quo loyalty. We stand for freedom and democratic values. Foreign aid is part of who we are and how we try to make the world a better place. Foreign aid, when spent wisely, is objectively useful, morally good and one of the most important tools in our foreign policy toolbox. It's part of what makes us the greatest nation on earth.

Dan Glickman served as U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Clinton and represented Kansas in Congress for 18 years. He is now vice president of the Aspen Institute. Follow him on Twitter @DanRGlickman.