What's Foreign Aid? Why Does the U.S. Provide It?

According to this article, a recent poll revealed that "respondents thought the foreign aid part of the federal budget was an average of 27 percent. The real amount is about one percent." That suggests either that the amount of foreign aid is small or that the federal budget is very big. The one percent figure is supported by government data. Leaving aside the question of whether we can afford it, some foreign aid is useful because it may in various ways serve the interests of the United States; beyond that, we might supply aid which will do the United States little or no good, or aid which is even likely to harm the United States. With an administration often asleep at the switch and dithering, attempting to figure out which is which is a difficult, but necessary, exercise.

According to the Obama administration's foreign aid appropriations request for 2011, in many cases slightly less than last year, we should provide direct foreign aid to the following countries in the amounts indicated (not all countries to receive aid are included):

Table I
N. Korea$2,500,000
S. Korea$0

Based on the (confusing) data provided by the United States government, the amounts shown in Table I above apparently do not include funds requested for multiple regional foreign aid offices serving two or more countries. Nor do they seem to include the $646,500,000 requested by the Obama administration for demon climate change or the $9,836,600,000 requested for health matters, including approximately $5.85 billion for HIV/AIDS and $231 million for nutrition. They apparently do include funds requested for military assistance, exclusive of the involvement of United States military forces most of which falls under Department of Defense budgets. The various assistance categories are provided here:

Table II
Peace and Security$10,843,000,000
Economic Development$4,656,400,000
Humanitarian Assistance$4,005,800,000
Democracy, Human Rights and Governance$3,333,000,000
Education and Social Services$1,585,700,000

Egypt and Pakistan

Aid requested by the Obama administration for Egypt includes both military and economic assistance. Of the total $1,558,000,000, $1.3 billion is for Peace and Security, which encompasses

peacekeeping, humanitarian, coalition/multinational and peace support operation. Support security sector reform through training and operational support. A host nation's security forces include military, paramilitary, law enforcement (includes civilian police, specialized units, border security, maritime security, etc.) Security sector reform activities are not limited to post-conflict situations.

Reductions in aid to Egypt have been suggested. Aid to Pakistan, three times more than that given to Egypt, might also be reconsidered.


Aid requested for Afghanistan ($3,923,700,000) also includes both military and economic assistance (exclusive of most U.S. troop involvement). Alas, the United States is increasingly viewed as an enemy. Most recently, President Karzai voiced what appears to be widespread public sentiment that collateral damage inflicted by NATO forces on the civilian population is completely unacceptable and said that

regret is not sufficient [...] civilian casualties during military operations by coalition forces is the main reason for tension in relations between Afghanistan and United States [...]. It is not acceptable for the Afghan people anymore. Regrets and condemnations of the incident cannot heal the wounds of the people [...] repetition of such incidents would affect relations and the environment of trust between us. The continuation of such incidents is not tolerable and not acceptable for the Afghan people and government.

When fighting a war against "civilians" who are not in uniform and are indistinguishable from others, mistakes happen; they also happen in conventional wars with uniforms.

Hundreds of people from a left-wing political party marched through Kabul to protest U.S. military operations and demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops.

They chanted, “Death to America, death to the American government,” and carried pictures of Afghans killed or wounded in recent airstrikes. They burned an effigy of Mr. Obama.

I have seen no reports of similar demonstrations against "civilian" insurgents who also kill civilians, sometimes rather indiscriminately. It seems to be a losing battle for the United States and for NATO, and it may be that when we leave Afghanistan little will remain of what we have tried to accomplish. Unless ways can be found to reverse this unfortunate momentum, the expenditure of nearly four billion dollars in aid as well as American lives and military resources not included in the nearly four billion dollar amount is likely to continue to harm rather than to help the United States.