In the wake of the passage of the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and $900 billion COVID relief bill, there was much outrage directed at the foreign aid, which was not even part of the COVID relief legislation.
The $1.4 trillion omnibus package and COVID relief bill are two separate packages that fall under the year-end funding package for fiscal 2021. And not one red cent was appropriated for foreign aid that was allocated from the COVID relief bill. However, Americans are keen on what is fair and what is not, so in effect, think of this column as a 600-word fact check about the wonders of U.S. foreign aid.
Opinion polls have gauged what many Americans believe the federal government actually spends on foreign assistance. Some believe U.S. foreign aid makes up around 25% of the federal budget, and frankly, if this was correct, the topic of this column would be much different and the tone would not be conciliatory. In fiscal year 2019, foreign aid represented less than 1 percent of the total national budget. Former President Donald Trump had denounced U.S. military support for countries such as Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, and South Korea, and had cited how America cannot afford this.
Saudi Arabia does purchase billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment, but foreign nations that line the pockets of big American defense industries do not really count as foreign aid. Consider, also, that when the term “foreign aid” is thrown around, there is also the variable of the cost of having U.S. military bases overseas. If you examine the cost of keeping U.S. troops in foreign nations, the key question is, if these U.S. forces were not based in the above-mentioned countries, wouldn’t these same troops be based somewhere else? Currently, there are around 49,000 troops in Japan, 28,000 in South Korea, and 38,000 in Germany. (When I was a young soldier stationed in Germany in the early 1990s, there were still around 200,000 U.S. soldiers based in country).
While it is true that the Senate Armed Services Committee has reported the contributions from Japan and South Korea had not kept pace with the growth of costs for the U.S., is it really that expensive to have these U.S. forces overseas, since most of the tab is being footed by our allies? And what about the benefits and risks to keeping U.S. personnel abroad, considering the element of deterrence to U.S. adversaries, as well as improved awareness and knowledge of cultural differences regarding foreign military operations?
Ultimately, from a strategic standpoint, and in the aftermath of two world wars, the U.S. opted for a strategy based on deterrence during the Cold War era. Doesn’t it make better strategic sense to base garrisons of troops in foreign lands, as opposed to deploying troops to those same nations at a later time?
Trump’s subjective opinion on how the U.S. “can’t afford” military spending in various countries runs in striking contrast to the reality of what is actually spent on foreign aid, which is a minuscule amount. This is a balancing act when you consider that U.S. military expenditures overseas do provide strategic benefits that should outweigh any concerns about falsehoods regarding how America puts foreign nations ahead of our own interests, because some of our interests are linked with foreign interests.
Brent Been is a Tahlequah educator with an emphasis on civics and history.