Going Scrooge on foreign aid?

Ebenezer Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge

Because of the hard economic times, or maybe it’s the holiday spirit, a number of folks are saying we need to cut U.S. foreign aid — as if it is some huge financial extravagance we can no longer afford.

The reality is, it’s not huge at all (see pie chart below) and not really an extravagance.

Nevertheless, on Fox News, Bradley Blakeman, a professor of politics at Georgetown University and former adviser to President George W. Bush calls for cuts to foreign aid, saying “Charity Begins at Home.” Says Blakeman:

The American people should demand that our government leaders put America first…. We have a long and proud history of helping others and we should be proud of that. But, when times are tough in America, I do not see others rushing to our side.

So Blakeman thinks that unless the countries we assist with foreign aid don’t also help us, we shouldn’t help them? I was going to poke fun at the idea of us proud Americans getting foreign aid until  …

I read in CNN that some poor communities in the U.S. are, in fact, getting foreign aid. In the Huffington Post, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund writes about a Dutch charity providing Foreign Aid for Mississippi’s Children. Says Edelman:

This Christmas season 15.5 million children in America are living in poverty—the highest child poverty rate the nation has seen since 1959.

So given our own problems, maybe it might seem reasonable for politicians like Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL), the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to look for cuts to foreign aid.

Ros-Lehtinen has said she will seek “deep cuts in U.S. foreign operations” around the world. (Not counting the foreign military operations, of course. She means things like delivering food aid, health care and so on).

This could have broad political implications, says FP:

The cuts could severely complicate the Obama administration’s mission to elevate both diplomacy and development as instruments of national power, as laid out in the National Security Strategy. It could also cause difficulties for the State Department’s plan to take over more responsibility in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and rebuild the U.S. Agency for International Development.

More importantly, cuts in foreign aid could also mean more children will go hungry, more people will suffer from extreme poverty, more women will die during childbirth and many more people with otherwise treatable illnesses will instead just have to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

The Obama Administration, especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the folks at USAID, recognize that foreign aid is as critical to U.S. economic success and global influence as diplomacy. Many military leaders have recently called for boosting foreign aid as a means to make their job easier in conflict areas.

It would be great if most Americans recognized how little we do, compared to per-capita spending by other rich nations and when considered in the context of all federal spending, when it comes to government foreign aid — and why it would be in our national interest to increase it rather than cut it.

Here’s what we spend today on foreign aid, about $37 billion. It might sound like a lot, but it’s a mere pittance when looked at in context (click on the image to improve resolution):

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • Hurryup

    How about crediting Ronald Searle for that Scrooge illustration you’ve nicked?