One of the hidden costs of the New American Century is the inevitable, periodic payoff to a friendly regime. Such payoffs predate the current Administration, of course; Nixon had his “cops on the beat”, and the US bought all kinds of goodwill after WWII. As a result of being long-standing practice, these undemocratic appropriations of taxpayers’ money to serve abstract foreign policy objectives often go unexamined. That might be a trivial matter if the costs were short-term, but the US commitment to foreign aid has not abated with the passage of decades. As a result, Washington has committed Americans to subsidizing the regimes of other countries, without ever courting Americans’ willful consent.
To give an example, Israel receives about a third of current US foreign-aid. In the current budget crisis, foreign aid seems like it would be one of the first things to be scuttled, but Washington disagrees with such parochial logic. Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Annual Policy Conference on March 30, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed the Washington government’s intention to increase subsidies to a tiny nation with a token industrial base and one of the five most powerful militaries on the planet. The transcript used here is from the State Department website, leaving the reader to wonder whether or not “(Laughter)” and “(Applause)” are intended as descriptions or as crowd directions:
“While we deal with Saddam Hussein, we must not forget the burdens that the conflict with Iraq has placed on our Israeli friends. I am very pleased that President Bush has included in his supplemental budget request that just went to Congress $1 billion in Foreign Military Financing funds to help Israel strengthen its military and civil defenses. (Applause.) And that’s just for starters. (Laughter.) The President is also asking for $9 billion in loan guarantees. (Applause.) These loan guarantees will help Israel deal with the economic costs arising from the conflict, and will help Israel to implement the critical economic and budgetary reforms it needs to get its economy back on track. And I am hopeful that Congress, with your encouragement — (laughter) — will act quickly on this request. (Applause.)”
$10 billion, “for starters”. As if billions of dollars were floating around in the ether. At a recent Americans for Victory Over Terrorism university “teach-in”, Bill Bennett characteristically said that America has been given special gifts and therefore has the obligation to be “the world’s policeman”. But never do professional moralists like Bennett ask why it is that US taxpayers should pay for the right for our country to undertake such an unenviable task.
The dubious logic in which the US commitment to foreign aid is rooted is rivaled in scope by the questionable economics of such programs. Why does the US give billions of dollars to Egypt and Israel to maintain a tenuous cessation of hostilities that isn’t rooted in any real resolution? Why does Washington loan money to countries, and then absolve those countries of any obligation to repay their debt? It seems silly to keep track of debt at all if the debts end up written off. Such transactions aren’t loans at all, so much as rentals of measures of cooperation. The strategic importance of Pakistan, for example, to the US government hasn’t been lost on any President since Nixon. True to form, Washington indicated that importance on April 5 by writing off a billion dollars in Pakistani debt to the US..
“This $1 billion in debt relief will add to the momentum of Pakistan’s economic recovery by allowing the government to focus more of its energies and budget resources on critical social development priorities, identified in the government’s poverty reduction strategy. I want to stress that the forgiveness of $1 billion in bilateral debt is just one piece of multi-billion-dollar assistance package the US government is providing to Pakistan.” Those words from Nancy Powell, US Ambassador to Pakistan, to reporters from the Pakistani Dawn newspaper.
Agents of the Washington government cut deals with strongmen all over the world, doling out billions of dollars from our bankrupt treasury in the process. Essentially IOU’s, these chits will be worked off by our sons and daughters. These are perilous times, made more so by foreign aid programs that are detrimental to what is now called “homeland security”. There should be a moratorium on the sort of foreign aid provided to Pakistan and Israel until the US is again financially solvent.
ANTHONY GANCARSKI is a regular columnist for CounterPunch. He can be reached at: ANTHONY.GANCARSKI@ATTBI.COM