November 30, 1999

November 30, 1999 | Commentary on Foreign Aid and Development

Biting the Hand

Suppose you give your neighbor $1,000 and the next day he dumps his trash on your lawn. The day after that, he drops by and asks for more money. Would you give it to him?

Probably not. But the U.S. government is not so easily offended. Countries that regularly trash the United States at the United Nations receive billions in U.S. foreign aid. Year after year.

In a recent study, my Heritage Foundation colleague Brett Schaefer found that 75 percent of the countries that received U.S. aid in 1998 voted against the United States a majority of the time at the United Nations. Of the 10 largest recipients of U.S. aid (combined take: $379 million), six voted against the United States more than half the time. Indeed, countries that receive no U.S. aid vote with the United States more often than those that aggressively rattle the cup.

All of which contradicts President Clinton's claim, echoing the foreign-policy establishment, that the United States needs to dispense large sums of money to succeed at foreign policy. How large? Well, in October the president vetoed a $12.7 billion foreign-aid bill because it was $2 billion short of what he wanted.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart explained the veto this way: "The president believes strongly in the benefits of engaging around the world, of the U.S. demonstrating its leadership." But giving money to countries is not leadership. At best, it's charity. At worst, it's bribery. In reality, it's stupidity. America's generosity certainly doesn't buy us friends around the world. It doesn't even buy us respect. Consider:

Egypt was the glad recipient of $2.1 billion in U.S. foreign assistance last year, second only to Israel. Yet Egypt voted against the United States 68 percent of the time.

India pocketed $144 million from the United States and voted against us more than any other country-81 percent of the time. You could get more gratitude than that from a mugger.

Pakistan took nearly $7 million and voted against us 75 percent of the time. This is the country, mind you, where a military strongman just ousted the democratically elected president in a coup. And for the record, U.S. aid did nothing to prevent Pakistan and India from exploding nuclear bombs last year.

Haiti grabbed $102 million and voted against us 62 percent of the time. American soldiers risked their lives to restore democracy to that beleaguered island nation, and this is the thanks we get. Haiti also remains one of the most destitute nations on earth, proving that international welfare does little to lift the poor out of poverty.

And Mexico, our not-so-helpful neighbor to the south, received $15 million in 1998 and voted against us 67 percent of the time. The United States has granted Mexico unfettered access to U.S. markets under the North American Free Trade Agreement, led an international bailout of Mexico's economy in 1994, and opened its borders to millions of Mexican citizens. Yet Mexico's chief aim at the United Nations seems to be thwarting American foreign policy goals.

Checkbook diplomacy doesn't work. We say "yes" with our money, and aid recipients say "no" with their votes. Countries on the U.S. dole aren't just biting the hand that feeds them-they're taking the whole arm.

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

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