Congress: do not take a hatchet to foreign aid

Foreign aid ensures the support and stability of our allies, and is a pittance of the U.S. budget

President Obama is receiving harsh bipartisan criticism for his handling of the economy, and his approval ratings are at an all-time low. Many are calling for the U.S. to reduce foreign aid and to pursue isolationist policies in order to save money. However, it is not in our best interest to take a hatchet to foreign aid. Instead, we need to carefully evaluate where our resources are allocated abroad so that U.S. interests and safety can be best secured.

It is estimated that the current U.S. involvement in Libya costs $100 million per day. Although President Obama has promised that the U.S.-led efforts in Libya will be over shortly, there is no guarantee. The Obama administration has not articulated any defined end goals or exit strategy, and the role of other NATO members is unclear. Although the United Arab Emirates has pledged 14 jets to maintain the no-fly zone over Libya, other countries — such as Germany — have shied away from involvement. Regardless, the fact is that we are involved in an expensive military operation without any official approval from Congress.

As a result, many are outraged and claim that enforcing a no-fly zone is just too expensive. Some, like Congressman Ron Paul, have called for a complete halt of U.S. foreign aid and the end of foreign interventions. This approach is extreme and will harm the United States in the long run for a number of reasons.

Firstly, if the United States seriously wants to reduce the deficit, we must cut funds from some of our large and ever-growing domestic programs. In 2009, for instance, 13 percent of our overall federal budget was spent on Medicare alone. Medicare and other domestic programs have the potential to save money by being run more cost-effectively. Instead, they get caught up in big government bureaucracy and burn through much more cash than is necessary.

Foreign aid, on the other hand, comprises only a little more than 1 percent of the federal budget. At this time, foreign aid is such a small portion of the budget that it is not the place to effectively reduce our spending.

Instead, foreign aid should be viewed as the most cost-effective way for us to bolster our allies and promote our interests abroad. Our allies rely on monetary aid to maintain and ensure the viability of their security and social service programs; drastically cutting aid will not promote stability or success. Rather, it will rip the training wheels off governments trying to combat radical opponents, which will only create potentially volatile situations and hurt our international efforts. Radical groups such as al-Qaeda use poverty as a platform to gain support. In underdeveloped and struggling areas, the population will support radical or terrorist groups because they provide some form of relief. By fighting poverty and desperation, we are also preventing the seeds of radicalism from growing. In this way, foreign aid keeps the United States strong, secure, and successful.

Aside from the clear benefits abroad, foreign aid also creates jobs here at home. By U.S. law, almost all foreign aid must be spent on domestically-produced items, creating jobs and global economic relationships, and infusing money into the domestic economy. With one in five American jobs connected to exports, the money we send abroad is not a net loss for U.S. taxpayers, but an economic stimulus for the entire country.

However, this does not mean that foreign aid should be doled out blindly. Rather, it is imperative that the recipients of foreign aid are carefully selected. For example, the U.S. should reevaluate the aid given to Lebanon considering the rise of Hezbollah. Recently, the Lebanese parliament selected Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati as the next Prime Minister. It is very possible that Hezbollah, recognized by the United States as a terrorist organization since 1995, could seize control of Lebanon and threaten the country’s autonomy. As a result, Iran and Syria could turn the Lebanese Armed Forces into their pawn. It is against U.S. interests to support a radical Islamic terrorist group such as Hezbollah, and so it makes no sense to give foreign aid to an army that they indirectly control.

It is an undeniable fact that the United States is going through a hard economic reality. However, our $14 trillion economy is resilient and will be able to rebound from the difficulties we are experiencing. It is unnecessary and harmful to cut all foreign aid indiscriminately, especially in such uncertain times. It is crucial that we carefully scrutinize recipients of foreign aid, especially amid rapid regime changes and terrorism, so that we do not directly fund our enemies. However, we do need to continue to grant aid to our strong and unrelenting allies.