The Trump administration’s budget proposal for 2018 sent shockwaves across the country, but when it came to one slice of the funding, the international-affairs budget, those waves extended across the globe.
The proposed 31 percent cut affects the U.S. bilateral foreign-aid accounts; funding for the United Nations, World Bank, and other international institutions; and the State Department’s diplomatic duties. The United States’ friends and allies in the developing world now have tangible evidence, in place of vague speculation, of what they had most feared since Donald Trump’s election in November: the withdrawal of the United States from active international leadership in the world.
At current levels, the $30 billion U.S. foreign-aid budget is less than 1 percent of the $3.8 trillion federal budget, though polls show Americans believe it takes up a much larger share. Trump’s proposal, which functions as a blueprint of his vision for the government, would cut U.S. aid funding to a level not seen since the 1970s and 1990s. As such, his budget echoes a mistake that other presidents have made: diminishing the power of U.S. foreign aid at a time when it’s crucial to American interests.
The 1970s and 1990s marked the end of two cycles of war: The Vietnam War ended in 1973 and the Cold War ended as the Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991. In both cases, the national-security imperatives facing the United States changed dramatically overnight, and so did the resources for foreign aid. This follows a well-worn pattern: Whenever foreign threats to America’s vital interests rise, so does foreign spending, and whenever those threats appear to diminish, so do aid budgets.