Trump aims to weaponize foreign aid

What amounts to little more than a rounding error in the federal budget is capable of saving lives, preventing untold human misery, and ultimately keeping this nation safe in a way military might alone cannot accomplish.

It’s apparently not enough that President Trump is gutting the nation’s foreign service, causing career diplomats to drop like flies and removing those deemed disloyal. Now he wants to use the federal budget to eviscerate what’s left of the State Department and the US commitment to international programs.

The fiscal 2021 federal budget filed by the White House this week would cut funding for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development by 21 percent — an $11.7 billion hit from fiscal 2020. The budget document admits it “contains a new approach toward countries that have taken unfair advantage of US generosity” and “includes recalibrating American contributions to international organizations, asking other nations to pay their fair share.“


All of this “reform” and “recalibrating” constitutes an abandonment of allies and will inevitably mean a pullback in aid to such poor nations as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — the nations whose instability is driving the immigration crisis Trump so often rails against.

Yes, better to spend billions building that border wall higher and higher than a few hundred million on aid programs in critical regions of the world.

The fact is, of course, that the proposed $40.8 billion foreign assistance budget for both the State Department and the USAID is just about 1 percent of the massive $4.4 trillion budget. But the truly inconvenient fact is that what amounts to little more than a rounding error in the federal budget is capable of saving lives, preventing untold human misery, and ultimately keeping this nation safe in a way military might alone cannot accomplish.

In a letter to congressional leaders, retired Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, said, “The more we cut the International Affairs budget, the higher the risk for longer and deadlier military operations.”


That Trump is proposing to weaponize the nation’s international programs and foreign aid is hardly surprising. He did it last year, withholding $450 million in support for Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

It’s also exactly what he did with aid to Ukraine in that “perfect” phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that led to his impeachment in the House of Representatives.

Now he wants to do it on a global scale — though as far as we know, not, in this case, to bring down a political rival.

So much for Senator Susan Collins’s post-acquittal insistence that Trump learned “a pretty big lesson” from his impeachment.

The lesson he seems to have learned is that he can get away with anything — cutting the budget and jettisoning personnel he deems disloyal to him.

Days after the acquittal, Trump recalled his own ambassador to the European Union and ousted Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from his National Security Council post, both for the unpardonable sin of testifying during House impeachment proceedings. Also ousted was Vindman’s twin brother, Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Vindman, an ethics lawyer at NSC, apparently for nothing more than his bloodline.

Already out the door were former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch; her replacement, William Taylor Jr.; special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker; and State Department official Michael McKinley.

But the departures go well beyond the people wrapped up in the impeachment scandal. Departures of foreign service personnel hit 12 percent in the first eight months of the Trump administration, according to the Office of Personnel Management. And the American Foreign Service Association has expressed concerns about continuing high retirement rates.


In a recent column in The Washington Post, Yovanovitch wrote, “The State Department is filled with individuals of integrity and professionalism. They advance US interests every day — whether they are repatriating Americans vulnerable to a pandemic, reporting on civil unrest, negotiating military basing rights, or helping a US company navigate a foreign country.”

Under Trump’s budget, there would be far fewer experienced staff to do those jobs and far fewer resources to do them with.

Surely Democrats and those Republicans in both chambers with a modicum of common sense will be quick to see the folly of this effort to slash the country’s first and best line of defense on the world stage. There are many reasons this budget should be dead on arrival; this is one of the more pernicious ones.

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