BLAY-TOFEY: The right kind of foreign aid

“HIV-positive. It should have been a death sentence for her,” a good friend of mine recalled during lunch on a recent medical trip abroad to South Africa. Hearing those words during a prenatal appointment, the young mother-to-be felt as if her world had come to a sudden stop.

She found this news particularly hard because her country has the highest number of HIV-infected people in the world. To her, “HIV-positive” meant that she was condemned to suffer the wasting illness that had killed so many of her friends and family members.

Rather than the tragic reality that could follow, there is a feel-good element to this story. Through the support of a mother-to-child AIDS transmission program supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the mother was able to get essential antiretroviral prophylaxis treatment for herself and her newborn.

For many Americans, this kind of help is easily accessible. This is the kind of help that the United States is best at providing. It is also the kind of help that may be on its way out due to misguided arguments on the balancing of the United States budget.

As a college student, I wonder, “What difference does a year make on Capitol Hill?” In the midst of the U.S. budget negotiations, a lot. “[Foreign aid is a] core pillar of American power,” President Obama told the annual United Nations Millennium Development Summit last year. However, because of current disagreements in Congress, highlighted by the debt ceiling fiasco of last summer, this pillar may be on its way down.

In April 2011, the House and Senate passed $8 billion in foreign aid cuts. Programs that provide direct economic aid, which support global health, education and economic reform initiatives, are huge targets. Currently, Congress is deliberating whether to cut foreign aid even further. The current House Committee Proposal would cut $2 billion more from the foreign aid budget.

In our ongoing economic troubles, the common argument opposing maintaining foreign aid is that we do not have enough money and we must focus on ourselves. As a future worker, I share some of the same reservations.

However, it is unwise to look at foreign aid spending as an integral part of the economic strain the nation is facing today. At $34.72 billion, foreign aid accounts for approximately 1 percent of the estimated $3.729 trillion that the United States will spend in the coming year. Compared to funds allocated to other departments, the foreign aid figure looks irrelevant. But the consequences of cutting this small piece of the budget are very detrimental to our foreign policy, especially with the current unpredictability of international affairs and our need to sustain the transition of democratic states in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Admittedly, there are expenditures in the State Department budget that we should cut, such as aid to programs that do not produce beneficial results or to countries that are uncooperative with our nation. However, these extraneous expenditures should not be grouped with important foreign aid measures such as global health and global development initiatives through USAID and PEPFAR, which, respectively, have done tremendous good so far in providing nonmilitary assistance and HIV/AIDS aid around the world. The larger problem does not lie with the amount of aid allocated but how the money is managed once the checks leave the United States.

It is a shame that the good stories in which our foreign aid plays a part are often overshadowed by the mismanagement of funds that take place all over the world. Since it is often stories of wasteful aid that are highlighted, I would not blame the person who believes that foreign aid should be cut even further. Policy makers should be more concerned about sustaining aid programs that work, and not throwing money into potential black holes.

Cutting foreign aid will not change the larger problems of spending and tracking its effectiveness. Too often today, we spend the most time arguing over the little details rather than the larger issue. We focus on the scandals rather than the promising stories foreign aid has produced. Stories on the news often reflect scattered bits of sensationalism. If further cuts to foreign aid are made, the United States’ strong foundation in the world arena will continue to crumble as a stronger force more dedicated to aid will take our place of prominence in the world.

Morkeh Blay-Tofey is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact him at morkeh.blaytofey@yale.edu.

Comments

  • Arafat

    “But the consequences of cutting this small piece of the budget are very detrimental to our foreign policy, especially with the current unpredictability of international affairs and our need to sustain the transition of democratic states in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.”

    When are we going to quit pretending the Arab Spring will lead to democracies instead of Islamist theocracies? Will we acknowledge this reality only after the fact? I thought Yalies were supposed to be smart enough to see trends before the other guys do. I guess not.