I’m usually a supporter of foreign aid. The United States is a rich country, and we should be able to help out other people who – due to where they were born – don’t have access to basics such as clean water and medicines.
I also understand that foreign aid is the “cost of doing business” for our nation. It’s how we keep our allies close, and our enemies from loathing us to our faces. It’s how we make sure our companies have access to materials and manufacturing sites, that we get the oil that keeps our economy running, and that American tourists are able to travel with some degree of safety in many parts of the world.
So usually when I read of a politician’s calls to eliminate foreign aid from our national budget, I chalk it up either to grandstanding or a Don Quixote-like goal. There’s no way Washington is going to shut off that money, which amounts to about 1 percent of federal spending. It’s too important to our foreign policy interests.
Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul, has been tilting at the foreign aid windmill for a couple of years now without much luck. Earlier this year, though, he made a suggestion that morally appealed to me: cut off foreign aid to Pakistan until the treason conviction and 33-year prison sentence of Shakil Afridi, a doctor who helped the CIA trace Osama bin Laden, is overturned.
Makes sense to me. Everything I’ve read about Afridi indicates he’s not the nicest of human beings, but he helped us take out the terrorist responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans. Seems like if Pakistan really was our ally, they’d at least deport him to the United States.
Paul hit another nail on the head Thursday, when he called for cutting off foreign aid to Egypt and Libya as well, in the wake of the attacks on the U.S. embassies there and the deaths of four Americans. He wants that money – about $4 billion – instead split between paying off our deficit and helping fund the veterans’ jobs bill.
No amount of money is ever going to make certain factions of the Muslim world like us. We can pour billions of dollars and years of diplomacy into those nations, only to have Internet videos and cultural misunderstandings obliterate any progress in mere days.
Maybe Paul’s right. Maybe we should treat those nations like most Americans would a cousin who’s constantly bad-mouthing them and picking fights, but never fails to ask for a loan of money — that’s never repaid — or property — that’s returned broken.
Most of us eventually lock the tool shed and close up the cash drawer, saying, “Sorry, no can do until you change your ways.”
And using the money we’d save to pay for jobs training for the men and women who’ve been fighting terrorists – in overwhelmingly Muslim nations – would be an act of chivalry that would inspire even the man from La Mancha.