A perpetual problem with American democracy is that surveys consistently show that cutting spending in the aggregate is popular, but people don’t want to cut any programs in particular. In fact, when asked about particular items like education, health care, Social Security, etc. they generally want to spend more. The one persistent exception to this desire to increase spending in particular is foreign aid. Foreign aid is not popular, so it is baffling that more enterprising politicians haven’t latched onto cutting it as an issue.
Obama proposed $50.1 billion in foreign aid in the 2017 budget. In reality, this is really a drop in the bucket of our massively bloated $4.15 trillion federal budget, but it’s money that ought not be spent. The leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid is prosperous Israel at $3.1 billion followed by Egypt at $1.31 billion. Middle Eastern countries dominate the top of the list of countries receiving aid.
Foreign aid should be low hanging fruit for budget hawks, but it remains largely untouchable despite being unpopular presumably because it is an essential part of the overall globalist interventionist program and to touch it would potentially threaten the whole paradigm. That, and the fact that aid to one country in particular is supported by powerful elements of both parties’ bases, but more on that below.
In addition to being unpopular, foreign aid is unconstitutional according to enumerated powers doctrine which conservatives are supposed to adhere to. An argument could be made that payments to foreign countries for specific defense related purposes could be authorized under the national defense function of the federal government, but there is no enumerated power (Article 1, Section 8) to spend U.S. tax dollars on humanitarian assistance or general influence buying or to support the purchase of U.S. military weapons and equipment. Supporters of foreign aid argue that it gives us leverage with its recipients, but this presumes an interventionist framework where we need leverage with countries half-way around the globe.
Despite the unpopularity of foreign aid in general, foreign aid to Israel remains a very thorny issue and a major obstacle to its abolition. Some conservatives have argued that we should cut all foreign aid except aid to Israel. Conversely, when Rep. Ron Paul ran on a platform of cutting all foreign aid, some of his detractors cried that Paul wanted to cut foreign aid to Israel. While this was technically true, it was dishonest because Ron Paul wanted to cut all foreign aid to every country, not just aid to Israel.
Sen. Rand Paul attempted to avoid this pitfall by suggesting that we cut foreign aid to elements that are hostile to Israel while leaving aid to Israel intact and even this was roundly rejected by his Senate colleagues. Why would ostensible supporters of Israel oppose cutting aid to Israel’s enemies if there wasn’t a broader underlying agenda behind the continued funding of foreign aid?
Rand’s attempt to forge a compromise aside, calling for cutting all foreign aid except to Israel is a blatant case of special pleading. If foreign aid is indeed an illegitimate expenditure from a constitutional perspective and unwise from a non-interventionist perspective, it is an illegitimate and unwise expenditure for every recipient, not every recipient but one. Ending all foreign aid to every country is the only intellectually consistent position.
While foreign aid is admittedly not a large portion of the federal budget, relatively speaking, it is clearly an integral part of the dominant globalist interventionist framework, which is why it is defended so fiercely by the regime despite its unpopularity. Non-interventionists should support the total abolition of foreign aid precisely because its abolition would strike at a key plank in the interventionist platform, not because it is a major budget item. Thankfully its unpopularity is on our side.
This is the second in a series of articles on what a truly non-interventionist foreign policy would look like. The first in the series can be viewed here.