Ken Adelman makes a pursuasive argument in a recent article at Foreign Policy, saying that most of the money we give to countries like Isreal and Pakistan is largely a huge waste. The idea is we are supposed to get influence for that money, but we get nearly nothing in return:
Early in 1981, as a new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, I launched a computer tabulation to show the correlation between others’ receipt of U.S. foreign aid and their foreign- policy stances. I wanted to know: Did all that money buy America any love? The Neanderthal-era computer spewed its result: Nope.
Huge recipients of U.S. foreign aid — Egypt, Pakistan, and the like — voted no more in tune with American values than similar countries that received no, or less, U.S. foreign aid. Instead, their votes correlated closely with those of Cuba, which wasn’t a big foreign-aid donor.
That finding, surprising at the time, remains true. Four of the largest U.S. foreign-aid recipients today — Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — all take contrary positions on issues of critical importance to the White House. South Vietnam once got gobs — gobs upon gobs — of U.S. foreign aid. That didn’t help much. Likewise with Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Zaire (now the “Democratic” Republic of the Congo), and other “friendly” (read: graciously willing to take U.S. money) countries.
The conclusion seems clear: The relationship between “the United States’ ability to positively influence events abroad,” as Nye puts it, and the amount of U.S. foreign aid a country receives is unclear at best. For decades now, the United States has been the No. 1 foreign-aid donor — it has given the most money to poor countries — so it can’t move up any on that scale. But this hasn’t translated in making America the most popular or most influential country around the world. Quite the contrary.
The article is pretty in depth, which is standard fare at FP, and a good read. We won’t save our budget with deep cuts in foreign aid, but we should certainly deeply cut aid to countries who don’t listen to us in exchange for that money regardless of whether we need to look for savings anywhere we can find it or not.