Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Foreign Aid

Like many of you, I have been following the protests in the Middle East with a heavy heart. Many of you might agree with the idea that these extremists are the rule rather than the exception, believing Islam, by its very nature to be a violent religion bent on the destruction of America. If that is true I am not sure we would ever be safe since close to 25% of the Earth’s population is Muslim (around 1.7 billion people). 

That being said, it is inexcusable for Islamic adherents in these countries to attack and punish random Americans for an offense committed by someone else who happens to share the same citizenship. Sure depicting Mohammed as a pedophile was offensive and inflammatory but that does not give his followers the right to kill. If an Iranian citizen produced a video portraying Jesus as a child-molester, I would be upset, but that does not give me a license to commit acts of brutality against anyone born in Iran. Rudderless anger and senseless violence only serve to discredit peaceful Muslims and play into the hands of those who believe all adherents of Islam live only to pursue violence against those who do not share their faith.
However, by decrying such action on their part we must remind ourselves that our responses should avoid the same pitfalls. I have heard more than one person denounce the protestors for their generalized condemnation of America while suggesting that we pull all diplomats and suspend any and all aid to countries like Afghanistan and Libya as a retaliatory measure. I dare say this brand of knee-jerk diplomacy relies heavily on the same mistaken generalities the Muslim extremists rely on. After all, isn’t holding an entire nation responsible for the actions of a few of its inhabitants precisely what drives terrorism in the first place?

Don’t misunderstand me, I tend to lean isolationist in the area of foreign policy and feel Bush’s insistence on invading two Middle-Eastern countries was a fool’s errand that cost thousands of lives and trillions of US dollars while playing into the hands of those who would gleefully portray the United States as an international bully. As such, I believe that certain types of humanitarian and economic aid (de-mining, starvation prevention, healthcare, etc..) are worthwhile causes to be pursued while other expenditures should be scaled back dramatically and the money spent here.

So exactly how much American money do we give to foreign countries? To find out I went to the USAID website (also known as “greenbook”) and ran a report of foreign aid (both economic and military)from 2000-2010 and then compared that to the average population of that same time period to estimate the amount of US dollars for every person residing in that nation. So who got the most money per capita over the last decade? It wasn’t even close:

·          Israel - $4,400 per person ($30.5 Billion to a country of 7 million people)
·         Iraq – $2,000 per person ($59.2 Billion to a country of 30 million people)
·         Afghanistan - $1,500 per person ($46.2 billion to a country of 29 million people)
In order to gain some perspective let’s look at Egypt & Libya:
·         Egypt - $247 per person ($19.8 billion to a country of 80 million)
·         Libya - $8 per person ($73.6 million to a country of 9 million)

We are not exactly underwriting Muslim anti-American sentiment with these numbers. In Libya we could barely underwrite a decent meal. In fact, if one were resolutely opposed to giving any American aid to Muslims in the Middle East then Israel presents quite a conundrum since Muslims make up almost 18% of the country’s total population (compared to about 0.8% in the United States). Generally speaking, this means we have funded more Muslims through Israel than we have through Libya even assuming the entire population of Libya is Muslim.  

The trends of our international generosity are interesting as well.  From 2001-2010:
·         Aid to Iraq and Libya was highest in 2006
·         Aid to Iran was highest in 2004
·         Aid to Jordan was highest in 2003
·         Aid to Egypt was highest in 2002
I bring this up only to address the possibility that there is a correlation between the amount of foreign aid and local unrest. If that were true, it appears the logical conclusion would be that the more money we sow the less violence we reap; but most would agree that buying popularity is not a solid foundation for US foreign policy.

One last interesting fact was that the country to receive the smallest amount of USAID was Iceland. We gave them exactly $83 last year. I have to wonder how we settled on this number. Did we buy one orphan an iPod shuffle from the petty cash? Did one of our diplomats drop his wallet in the airport and feel this was the least embarrassing way to write-off the loss? All I know is, Iceland better watch their p’s & q’s because if someone so much as litters in front of the US embassy over there they can kiss that gravy train goodbye.

For the interested, you can go to the following website and run a 10-year report on any country that receives USAID:

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