Of President Trump’s many campaign pledges, few were repeated as consistently or often as that to put America “first” and to end investments in nation building overseas. The first days of his administration, though, have already demonstrated that he has no plans to carry out at least some of his promises. From appointing a cabinet filled with Washington insiders, to his refusal to fully separate himself from his business interests, it is becoming increasingly clear that at least some of what he said before the election was purely posture. Thus far, his supporters seem willing to accept this, and Republicans in Congress have been willing to work with him on the less controversial aspects of his agenda.
Less than a week in, the new administration has already shown a propensity for falsehoods and exaggerations . If his promise for cuts to foreign assistance become another lie, the world will be a safer and more stable place.
Organizations like USAID, the Peace Corps, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation all play key roles in creating global opportunity. By providing resources like agricultural education, credit access, and business training, America’s development agencies empower countries and economies to thrive. By providing vaccines, the devastation wrought by pandemics can be prevented. By promoting literacy, populations overseas are better equipped to hold their governments accountable.
This is more than theoretical. The United States’ long-standing history of global engagement strongly supports the concept that aid is a win-win.
The U.S. invested $8.6 billion in economic and military assistance to Colombia in the early 2000s when the Central American nation was nearly overrun by drug gangs. By 2011, with the help of U.S. aid, the kingpins were in check and farmers faced a safer and more prosperous future..
Following the Korean War, American assistance was critical to rebuilding South Korea. Today, it is one of United States’ most important Asian allies and sixth largest trading partner. Seoul has made overseas assistance a key part of its own foreign policy, further building development and prosperity around the world.
These are not isolated examples; 11 of the United States’ top 15 trading partners are former recipients of its foreign aid. Many of these countries are now major aid donors themselves. Through America’s development programs, the U.S. helps stabilize global hotspots, fights to end poverty, and reduces illiteracy, hunger, and disease.
Because of these efforts, in the last 25 years the number of people living in extreme poverty globally has been cut in half. Smallpox has been eradicated, the world is close to eliminating polio, and deaths from malaria have reached new lows. Since 2004, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has helped millions of people diagnosed with AIDS and HIV. Over five million doses of life-saving antiretroviral treatments have been provided, and in the last five years alone, more than two million babies have been born HIV-free because their mothers received antiretroviral medication. Across sub-Saharan Africa a generation is being born HIV-free – all because of American humanitarian efforts.
As Trump’s new Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis eloquently put it when testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2014, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” President Trump should take these words to heart. If he truly wants to prevent an attack in the United States, turning inward is not the solution. There is no wall tall enough to keep out all who threaten the country.
The need to invest in America’s is real. The nation’s infrastructure, education, medicare and social security programs are failing. But cutting international aid is not the way to pay for domestic spending. The international affairs budget – which includes everything from traditional foreign aid, to counter-terrorism programs, to trade promotion-accounts for less than one percent of the entire federal budget. America does need to make major investments within its borders. Those investments, though, cannot be paid for with cuts to global capacity building.
Just as the Marshall Plan was instrumental in securing Western Europe following the destruction of World War II, our foreign assistance provides opportunities and education around the globe. By encouraging books, not bullets; mediation, not massacres; sufficiency, not starvation, our diplomatic efforts reduce the risk of violence. If President Trump truly wants to make America great and keep the country safe, he should continue investments in nation building, both domestically and overseas.