Foreign Aid – More Trouble Than It's Worth?

America's politicians have been sending billions of dollars overseas annually for so long that it has become a simple matter of course that the practice will continue. Occasionally a fiscal conservative voice in the wilderness is heard decrying the absurd level of foreign aid but mostly we hear a whole bunch of silence. But the ongoing battle for the Republican presidential nomination has pushed to the forefront the quasi-libertarian views of Texas representative Ron Paul, who loudly speaks in favor of ending all foreign aid immediately.

Though mainstream Republican candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum seem to dismiss Paul's rants as the ravings of either a lunatic mind or senile senior citizen, what is the reality of Paul's ideas? Is foreign aid really critical to our national defense, as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton likes to claim? In Madame Secretary's own words:

(Referring to proposed Republican budget cuts) “Cuts of this magnitude will be devastating to our national security, will render us unable to respond to unanticipated disasters and will damage our leadership around the world.” Moreover, the proposed reductions will be “detrimental to America's security.”

The question at hand is whether or not this “international welfare” (a term amusingly coined by the Cato Institute) achieves any positive result in advancing US interests around the world. Let's examine a few case studies.

Egypt
The past few decades have seen something like $30 billion dollars funneled to Egypt, though the country remains poor and undemocratic. In fact, aid to the Mubarak dictatorship has gone a long ways toward keeping this Middle Eastern spot a volcano of unrest. The so-called “Arab Spring” uprising of 2011 has yet to play out completely but, at first glance, it seems like we're merely trading one despot for another.

Pakistan
Generally credited as the womb of international terrorism, is it any surprise that Osama Bin Laden was ultimately killed whilst hiding inside Pakistan? As with Egypt, billions have disappeared down this rabbit hole, and to what end? Continued crushing poverty with no relief in sight.

Congressman Paul merely states in debates what should be obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with reality – throwing more money at these sorts of problems isn't working. Is it so ludicro

us to suggest we try something different? This is not to say that foreign aid never benefits anything. Some projects have succeeded but when we accept the legitimacy of a self-appointed Third World dictator as the law of the land, Houston, we have a problem.

Like it or not, institutionalized charity has created long term dependency and a thriving black market for goods. Consider the first hand experience of Coral Gables mayor Don Slesnick, who returned from a private aid mission with this to say: “We were saddened to see rice bags travel no more than 20 (meters) from the gates of the distribution site before ending up in the back of a pickup truck presumably headed for the black market. To our further dismay, we returned home to read news stories that those very same donations were undercutting Haitian rice farmers who needed income to support their own families.”

The brutal truth is that shipments of money, supplies, and food may be reaching the people they were intended to help in only a small percentage of cases. A quote from two decades ago, in Somalia, from Michael Maren of another private aid organization went thusly: “Separately we'd arrived at the conclusion that the relief program was probably killing as many people as it was saving, and the net result was that Somali soldiers were supplementing their income by selling food, while the [insurgent force] — often indistinguishable from the army — was using the food as rations to fuel their attacks into Ethiopia.”

Let's not rush past that quote – KILLING as many people as we're saving. Is this the purpose of international aid? Maybe the truth of the matter is we should seriously revisit the concept of foreign aid. Maybe Ron Paul isn't as balmy as the entrenched Republican establishment would have us believe. The numbers bear out the fact that the vast majority of foreign aid is thrown at these Third World countries who, in brutal honesty, have minimal to no impact on our national security. Ms. Clinton is being either obtuse or disingenuous with her claims that we can't risk cutting foreign aid on grounds of national defense risks.

The obvious question becomes, exactly what is all this money buying us? Public enemy number one (Bin Laden) living apparently unfettered in the midst of one of our allies?! Frenemies is more like it. Maybe Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney should shut up for a while and let the “crazy” guy talk.

The American Monetary Association Team

Flickr / DonkeyHotey

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