Why Trump Cutting U.S. Foreign Aid Could Make America Less Safe

Features Writer
02.27.17 7 Comments


Ever since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has tried to live up to the myriad of campaign promises that he believes will “Make America Great Again.” However, some of these shortcuts to America regaining her allegedly lost greatness have been wrapped in troubling “America First” rhetoric. Understandably, this worries people who think Trump’s attitudes may influence policy in a way that turns the country toward isolationism and a weakening of diplomatic relations, prestige, moral standing, and homeland security. These concerns are specifically due to what they perceive as threats to the foreign aid budget, which affects America’s long-held belief that it should be a charitable and humanitarian force in the world.

$50.1 billion in annual foreign aid may seem like an astronomically huge sum, but in the grand scheme of an Obama proposed $4.15 trillion budget for 2017, it is a relatively small percentage — about 1%. Yet, a 2015 study revealed that the average American believes that the percentage of the budget that went to foreign aid is closer to 25%, and over half of the participants believe that the government spends too much helping other nations — a dangerous misconception. Because let’s face it, if you read that American bridges are crumbling all over the place, and you’ve been led to believe that a quarter of your tax dollars are going to building bridges in Africa, you’ll be far more put off than you will be by the real numbers.

And that uninformed anger is a real hurdle for those who advocate for more aid. This is especially the case in the era of Trump where uninformed anger has been such an asset to the new president and his habit of using hyperbole to get people’s hackles up. Moving past those obstacles will be a challenge, although meeting this objective will, quite literally, do a world of good.

The Importance Of Foreign Aid

Why does foreign aid matter? From a purely humanitarian standpoint, that money goes toward health initiatives, rebuilding damaged infrastructure, and working to eradicate systemic issues like child mortality, extreme poverty, and AIDS/HIV. While the distribution of foreign aid is not above criticism, it ultimately does the necessary work of narrowing the gap between the haves and have-nots when it comes to getting access to health services in developing nations. There are other benefits, as well.

On top of alleviating the struggle of people living in developing nations, it just makes good economic and political sense, according to USAID:

“In addition to fostering stability, promoting economic growth and reducing poverty, foreign assistance also spreads American influence throughout the world and enhances America’s reputation and standing. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example–a region where national economies are rapidly growing and where U.S. health assistance is focused–more than 70 percent of countries surveyed by PEW earlier this year have a favorable opinion of the U.S.”

So, this means access to new markets, stronger diplomatic and military ties, and the knowledge that lives are being saved. But wait, there’s more, and it’s a more direct answer to this question: “But what does it do for me?”

From an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gayle Smith, the former USAID administrator spoke about the imperfect but still positive impact of foreign aid on the effort to stop terrorism’s growth at the root:

I think it [aid] can play a role, but I don’t think it’s as simple as, if we provide more foreign aid terrorism will stop. I think that if you look at those places in the world where you’ve got transnational threats — terrorism, human trafficking, money laundering, all those dangerous things that spill across borders — most often they are able to flourish in countries where people either don’t have access to opportunity or don’t have equal access to opportunity.

So I think that by investing resources in — not only the well-being of people but their ability to inform the decisions of their daily lives, their ability to have kids who are healthy enough to go to school so that each generation is able to do better and better — over time that protects us, and them, from these types of transnational threats.

So, aid can help in the fight against one of our biggest national security problems, and that’s reinforced by a study from the UK’s Department for International Development that states that areas with higher GDP are less likely to see internal conflict. Again, it helps. Obviously, it’s going to take a lot more than that to stop terrorism, but few problems have one big solution.

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