To the editor:
I appreciated the opportunity to read Dr. Glenn Mollette’s piece in Tuesday’s (Jan 22, 2019) Post-Intelligencer, in which he described in some detail the amount of U.S. funds spent on foreign aid.
I appreciate his views and recommend additional context to provide a more complete view of U.S. foreign assistance.
First, the military aid, most of which is foreign military sales or FMS, is required to be spent on U.S. equipment.
In other words, the U.S. provides money for these countries to purchase — with the approval of the departments of Defense, Commerce and State — certain U.S. manufactured goods and equipment.
So, L3 Technologies sells radios to Egypt and Lockheed Martin sells F-16s to Iraq — equipment made in the United States, keeping American workers employed.
This arrangement also allows the United States to control the flow of spare parts and training in support of this equipment.
Second, the economic assistance, mostly in the form of economic support funds or ESF, is often associated with programs designed to improve the health and education of the population, stem the spread of disease and financial transparency to reduce the ability of terrorists to use foreign banking systems.
U.S. assistance to foreign countries — the “carrot” — is often accompanied by stipulations — the “stick” — requiring accountability, financial stability and a promise to keep terrorism in check.
Most of the FMS and ESF decisions are based on previous agreements, such as the Camp David Accord, in which Egypt agreed to a peace treaty with Israel in exchange for assistance.
Additionally, U.S. foreign aid is often used to blunt the influence of Russia and China, both of which give money to other counties without stipulations, which leads to greater corruption, more poverty and the expansion of terrorism.
The U.S. foreign assistance budget is the easy target, as many people do not experience a direct benefit.
(Some of the U.S. foreign aid is the direct sale of grain to foreign countries, transported by U.S. commercial shipping. Certainly Henry County farmers benefit, albeit marginally.)
The elephant in the room is much more difficult to target: mandatory programs of federal government.
In 2019, the budget request included $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending (of which foreign assistance is a very small part) and $2.74 trillion in mandatory spending — twice the size of the discretionary portion of the budget.
Mandatory spending includes, among other things, interest on the debt — a yearly payment that is approaching the size of the Department of Defense budget.
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