The foreign aid debate is slowly changing in D.C., and it might be moving in a positive direction.
The recently concluded impeachment saga had a silver lining to it, regardless of where one stood on the issue. Politicians like Senator Rand Paul are leading the charge in rethinking America’s foreign aid policy, which played a role in the impeachment debate.
In December, Paul said in an interview with CNN that President Donald Trump should have every reason to be skeptical of foreign aid. He specifically used the case of Ukraine, which was at the center of the recent impeachment proceedings. In short, President Trump withheld foreign aid from Ukraine until the country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky provided Trump information that could expose some of his Democratic rivals’ dirty laundry. This caused House Democrats to launch an investigation into Trump and to impeach him on obstruction of Congress and abuse of power charges.
The senator told CNN:
All the governments of Ukraine have been corrupt. And, yes, I do think that foreign aid does not cure corruption. I think foreign aid aids and abets corruption. And if you look at studies, you actually find that the more corrupt nations get more money, because we think we’re going to somehow make them better.
Paul specifically referenced Ukraine’s rampant corruption. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Ukraine is ranked as the 120th least corrupt country in the world. Such corruption is only exacerbated by foreign aid, which is essentially a wealth transfer from domestic taxpayers to elites in foreign countries. Often times these foreign countries are already corrupt, so giving them aid will only encourage their crooked leaders to operate in an unscrupulous manner.
Ukraine received $559 million in aid in 2018 according to USAID. Foreign aid has been ramped up to Ukraine largely because of Russia’s intervention in the Crimean peninsula since 2014. Although this is preferable to having troops intervening in that region, why does the American government feel obligated to use taxpayer dollars to pick sides in a foreign conflict abroad?
It’s time to be honest. The U.S. is completely overstretched when it comes to military resources, be it troops or aid it sends abroad. When factoring in how bad the nation’s debt situation has become, we should pause before sending even more money abroad. The U.S. can’t play world police nor should it try to interfere in the affairs of other countries via conventional or soft power. What is good for foreign policy elites is not necessarily good for Main Street.
Countries like Ukraine will have to fix their own problems, from the current conflict with Russia to establish some semblance of economic freedom. In the latter case, Ukraine is ranked 147th place in the Heritage Foundation’s 2019 Index of Economic Freedom. So, on economic and political fronts, Ukraine has a lot of work to do.
A more reasonable policy the U.S. can take regarding Ukraine is to play the role of mediator in pursuing a peaceful solution to their conflict with Russia. An even bolder step would be to establish full-fledged free trade so that capital and investment can flow into Ukraine and help develop its economy. These are better alternatives to D.C.’s generic foreign aid and regime change strategies that have often yielded sub-optimal results during the last few decades.
Senator Paul should be saluted for putting forward the idea of cutting foreign aid and finding better alternatives.