President Bush recently announced that he plans to boost American foreign aid by 50 percent — to more than $15 billion a year. While Bush’s proclamation was widely praised as a sign of American generosity, little attention is being paid to the hypocrisy behind his policies. Unfortunately, American foreign aid could result in new chains and fetters for downtrodden foreigners.
The U.S. government gives more than $10 billion in foreign aid each year to foreign governments and foreign and international organizations. Tyrannical regimes are the worst terrorist organizations in the world, with respect to racking up impressive body counts. Foreign aid has been aptly described as handouts “from governments, to governments, for governments.”
The U.S. government will give more than $120 million this year to the government of Uzbekistan, a convenient ally in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The nitpickers at Human Rights Watch have complained about Uzbek government officials seeking to enlighten dissidents with methods such as “beatings, electric shock, temporary suffocation, hanging by the ankles or wrists, removal of fingernails, and punctures with sharp objects.” Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who supports the aid to Uzbekistan, stressed that it is “terribly important that we not uncritically align ourselves with governments which torture citizens.” But what is the difference between uncritically and critically using U.S. tax dollars to underwrite torture?
Many regimes with dubious human-rights records collect windfalls from American taxpayers, including Egypt (which routinely uses torture), Israel (which has a formal policy of assassinating suspected Palestinian militants), and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, two repressive countries with “poor” human rights records, according to the U.S. State Department. In 1998, the U.S. government condemned the Kosovo Liberation Army for its “terrorist action”; in 1999, the United States christened the KLA “freedom fighters” and deluged them with arms and aid.
The federal government is providing more than a billion dollars in aid to the government of Colombia to finance its war on coca growers and on leftist guerillas. Human Rights Watch reports that the “human-rights situation in Colombia has deteriorated markedly” since the Clinton administration pushed through a package greatly increasing U.S. aid to Colombia in 2000. The number of massacres by paramilitary forces allied to the government is skyrocketing.
The U.S. government is the largest funder of the World Bank — which slops out money willy-nilly to almost any government willing to sign a loan application. The bank has a long history of financing governments that terrorize their subjects. It has financed the brutal forced resettlement of Tanzanian villagers, Ethiopian farmers, and Indonesian refugees. Millions of people have seen their lives uprooted or ruined thanks in part to U.S. government contributions to the World Bank.
Bush is not using the same standard to judge his foreign-aid programs that he is using to crackdown on Muslim charities suspected of sending money to terrorist groups in the Middle East. When asked how much evidence or involvement was necessary to shut down a nonprofit organization, he replied that “one dime of money into a terrorist activity is one dime too much.” After the freezing of the assets of the Holy Land Foundation, Bush declared, “Those who do business with terror will do no business with the United States or anywhere else the United States can reach.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. government does not pass the Bush “one dime” standard. The U.S. government is probably spending far more to finance terrorist activities with its foreign-aid programs than Muslim charities are raising in the United States. The only defense for U.S. foreign-aid programs is that terrorism is not terrorizing if it is inflicted by people wearing government uniforms. But this is a distinction that guts human-rights protections for the vast majority of people in the world.
If the U.S. government wants to reduce funding for terrorism, it should cease all aid to foreign governments and organizations such as the World Bank. In the same way that Bush is shutting down Muslim charities suspected of misdirecting contributions, the federal government must abandon its addiction to throwing money at foreign governments. There are much better ways to help the poor people of the world than throwing more money at their rulers.