Could Trump’s efforts to put America first, put the country further behind?

Image result for usaid cartoon

“Which would make you safer and healthier: Being the neighbourhood hermit, locking and bolting your doors, not helping your neighbour but instead threatening them and allowing trash, sewage, rats and cockroaches to accumulate around your house? Or actually caring about your neighbourhood and neighbours and pitching in to keep your surroundings clean and safe?”    – Bruce Y Lee, “Bill Gates Is Right: USAID Is Not Just Foreign Aid, It Aids The U.S.” Forbes

Trump’s new “budget blueprint” to take place in the fiscal year 2018, following his campaign to “put America first” may actually put America further behind.  Internal budget documents and sources, which came out in March of this year, showed plans for drastic cuts in U.S. assistance to developing countries, as well as began talks of merging the State Department with the United States Agency for International Development, also known as USAID.  Trump’s proposal shows slashes of up to 28 percent to the State Department’s and USAID’s budget, and cuts to general aid to developing countries by over one-third.  These newly available funds would then be transferred to programs tied more closely to the administration’s national security objectives.  Forty-one countries are facing cuts, as global health funding is targeted, with the U.S. government expected to hit overall health program abroad fundings by approximately 25 percent. And despite the immense bipartisan opposition to such cuts in foreign assistance, experts still expect some amount of lowered spending levels on foreign aid to persist nonetheless.  However, many argue that the cuts proposed to lower foreign aid spending will ultimately hurt the United States.  Andrew Natsios explained the cuts as “basically… eviscerating the most important tool of American influence in the developing world, which is our development program … I don’t think they [those in the Trump administration] understand what the role of USAID is, … USAID’s mission directors are among the most influential foreigners in the country.”

USAID began in 1961, under President John F. Kennedy, who saw an obligation of the American people to their neighbours in an increasingly interdependent global community.  And despite the inherently altruistic goals of USAID, there are many selfish reasons for the country to seek the organization’s continued success.  For instance, providing foreign aid to developing countries creates numerous economic opportunities for the United States.  It also works to make the world safer for U.S. business and Americans, as well as generally stabilizing more vulnerable parts of the world through promoting health, economic and security opportunities.

And in general, the huge cuts to Foreign aid being suggested would likely make America less safe.  Cuts to global health funding would put Americans at risk in the case of a major epidemic.  A former USAID employee, and current executive director for the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress, John Norris, expressed his concern, “We’re going to see our own country much more vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases as we saw with the Ebola crisis. Things that start abroad can quickly erupt here.”  The work to prevent epidemics, as well stop emerging diseases, is just one of the many tangible way in which American aid works to benefit Americans.  This was seen through the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  The epidemic would’ve been much worse had the disease spread more widely into Nigeria; this was prevented in large part because of a group of healthcare workers who had been stationed there for an anti-polio campaign ran by the United States that were immediately reassigned to fight Ebola and help stop the spread from crossing the Atlantic to the United States.

And so, not only does U.S. development money save millions of lives and improve the quality of life for a large portion of the world’s population, it also inadvertently works to provide numerous tangible benefits to the United States.  One can only hope that the current administration keeps this in mind as they work to push forward their initial budget cuts to foreign aid.


The End of Foreign Aid As We Know It

2 thoughts on “Could Trump’s efforts to put America first, put the country further behind?

  1. lokeefe18

    Nice post, Kate. Interesting to see how the “America First” approach applies to foreign aid, especially when it’s so often looked at only from the foreign trade perspective.

  2. michaelmorigi

    I definitely agree with your opposition to the USAID cuts. There are philanthropic and humanitarian reasons why we give aid, but the political scientist in me is more cynical. As you mentioned somewhat, foreign aid is a great low-cost, non-violent tool to amplify US influence abroad. It helps give substance to the belief that the US is committed to promoting democratic values, human rights, freedom, etc. Furthermore, it gives the US more options beyond military force.

    I would also suggest that having these aid programs makes these developing nations more reliant on the US. The battleground for the developing world is only going to become more competitive as China begins to assert itself more – especially in Africa. The “multiplier” for US influence through these aid programs – in my opinion – justifies the costs many times over. As you mentioned, to retreat from these commitments will only hurt America’s standing and influence on the world stage.


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