Foreign Aid has never been a very popular Federal budget item. And as
commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie
Dunsmore tells us this morning, that’s particularly true this year.
As virtually every item of Federal spending this year is subject to
skeptical review – Congress can’t wait to get its knives out for the
annual giveaway known as foreign aid. The lead story in the New York
Times last Tuesday was headlined, "Foreign Aid Faces Major Cutbacks In
Budget Crisis." Members of both parties are apparently eager to show
they are serious about budget cutting. Or are they?
certainly not going to defend sending big money overseas, when there is
clearly major need here at home. Can sending millions to Pakistan to
cope with disastrous floods be justified when very many Americans are
suffering from the aftermath of our own floods, hurricanes, tornadoes
and wild fires?
But let’s put foreign aid into perspective. I
have heard numerous average Americans say they thought foreign
assistance ate up as much as a quarter of the federal budget. They
assume that if all that money was not being sent abroad, America would
not have such a large deficit and national debt. I get the impression
some members of Congress have the same notion.
The problem is
that for many people, the billions, eventually trillions being shoveled
out the door to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and what used
to be called the War on Terror, is confused with foreign aid. It is not.
Those items that the Bush Administration never put in the budget and
certainly didn’t defray with new taxes, are major factors in the deficit
and national debt. But those huge military expenses are not part of the
State Department’s foreign assistance.
One of my favorite
quotes was spoken by the former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, while
testifying on Capitol Hill on the Pentagon budget. With Secretary of
State Hilary Clinton at his side Gates said, "We have more people
playing in military bands than the State Department has diplomats."
fact, the foreign aid budget is relatively small. It amounts to just 1
percent of all federal spending. According to the Times report, the
proposed slashing of financing for the State Department and related aid
agencies quote "raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for
Africa; in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan;
in political assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East and
even for the Peace Corps."
With limited funds to support those
new Arab democracies, it’s notable that Israel – which every year
receives an aid package worth more than $3 billion, making it the
largest single recipient – is also the only country where assistance is
not being reduced.
A final thought. The head of a major
international relief agency told the Times, there needs to be a balance
between the actual financial benefits of the cuts – which may be
negligible – versus their impact in eroding both America’s influence and
its moral standing as a generous nation in times of crisis. Those noble
concerns, I fear, the budget cutters will most probably ignore.