The Tea Party has come to town and is excitedly proposing to cut everything under the sun – from Social Security to Medicare – and of course the item that always blows a huge hole in the budget: foreign aid. And by huge hole, I mean the one that accounts for just 0.015 percent of the total federal budget — an amount so small it makes the United States the most miserly aid provider of any developed country per capita. 165 House Republicans have now endorsed defunding USAID. Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reports that the Republican Study Committee, which is made up of 165 conservative Republicans, unveiled a plan that:
calls for $1.39 billion in annual savings from USAID. The USAID operating budget for fiscal 2010 was approximately $1.65 billion.
If enacted, this bill would all but defund USAID, the agency responsible for administering foreign aid. To make the proposal even more ludicrous, the Republican plan, according to Republican development expert Connie Veillette of the Center for Global Development:
does not really cut foreign assistance, which is the presumable target. Instead, it cuts USAID’s ability to manage already appropriated funds.
If enacted, this would only create administrative chaos — a fact that demonstrates how little thought is going into Republican proposals. But the Republican eagerness at cutting the agency points to the broader question of whether they actually want the United States to remain a superpower because the current proposal might as well have been written by Hu Jintao.
Besides the moral importance of significantly helping people in need by providing food assistance and basic health provisions, foreign aid is critical to US foreign policy. Ensuring people aren’t starving and finding ways to kick start development in the impoverished parts of the world is essential to maintaining stability. From a geopolitical perspective, aid buys influence in countries and regions. The massive economic growth in China has led them to drastically increase the amount of aid they send abroad. China’s influence is now growing not only in their region, but in Africa and Latin America where Chinese development and investment projects are buying influence and even propping up odious regimes, leading some to refer to it as a “rogue donor.”
But this isn’t just about China. Foreign assistance is also critical to our hard national security objectives. In an interview with Foreign Policy, the head of USAID Rajeev Shah noted that the cuts would:
puts our national security in real jeopardy because we are working hand and glove with our military to keep us safe.
Following the calamity in Iraq and the struggles in Afghanistan the military saw first hand the importance of civilian assistance programs and have become outspoken proponents of them. But they have also been shocked at the lack of capacity at State and USAID to actually deliver on their stated missions. Gates and the Pentagon, unlike House Republicans, recognize USAID’s importance, as it is on the ground working in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa — areas all critical to our military and our national security.
But these agencies continue to lack the resources to adequately do what is asked of them. This has prompted Secretary Gates to call for increases to the budgets of State and USAID and has noted that when he first left government in 1993 there were about 15,000 USAID workers that were deployable, now there are just 3,000. During this 15 year period, Republicans — particularly during the 90s under the leadership of former Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) — significantly cut foreign aid and the State Department’s budget. This has gutted these agencies capabilities and has made them less able to adequately support efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the US foreign policy objectives overall.
So the question for House Republicans is do they want the US to be a superpower that remains the most important and influential actor abroad or do they want to facilitate the rapid erosion of US hegemony? They would no doubt say the former, but in reality, their proposal results in the latter and is exactly how America declines as a great power. The effects of budget cuts like these don’t have immediate impact on our global status, but in the near term, 5, 10, and 15 years they serve to gradually, but in the end significantly, erode our influence and importance abroad.