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Countries Receiving America’s Foreign Assistance

foreign assistance
In 2013, the average American taxpayer shelled out $11,715 in federal income taxes. Out of that amount, the U.S. government spent $104 on development and humanitarian assistance, $46 on security assistance internationally, $63 on foreign affairs, embassies, and additional international affairs—according to a federal taxpayer receipt provided by The White House.

Compared with $11,715, that $213 for foreign assistance might seem too paltry to even bother to track abroad, but for the sake of holding government accountable, let us bother.Right away one hits a barrier: USAID has not yet made foreign aid spending data available for 2013. One has to extrapolate from 2012’s spending results to 2013. Whether this is reasonable depends on the consistency of the federal budget and of aid allocation since 2001.

Federal spending on international assistance has been relatively consistent during the past decade. Therefore, the portion of $11,715 used for foreign aid in 2012 would be close to the 2013 figure of $213.Aid allocation has been relatively consistent as well.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the United States directed most foreign assistance toward the Middle East. Economic assistance to Jordan increased 357 percent from 2001 to 2012. In that same timeframe, economic assistance to Afghanistan, the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid in 2012, increased from roughly 98.8 million in 2001 to 3.3 billion in 2012, a difference of about 3264 percent. Israel and Egypt have received billions in military assistance since 1995. Iraq received $1.9 billion in 2012 as part of ongoing reconstruction efforts. Pakistan has also ranked toward the top as a recipient.

If one focuses on USAID (ignoring especially the Agriculture and State Departments’ foreign spending), then the top five recipients list looks slightly less Middle Eastern: (1) Afghanistan; (2) Pakistan; (3) Jordan; (4) Ethiopia; and (5) Haiti. But while the example of Haiti, a country that had its aid amount skyrocket in 2010 after the earthquake, shows that some change does occur in these rankings, in general the United States has focused on assisting the Middle East. Why focus there?One idea that economist Paul Collier has argued in his book “The Bottom Billion” is that commercial lobbies manipulated USAID into directing spending where American exporters might benefit.

For USAID’s part, the organization maintains that “U.S. foreign assistance has always had the twofold purpose of furthering America’s interests while improving lives in the developing world.” USAID sees assistance as a foreign policy strategy that the U.S.’s heavy involvement in the Middle East requires the country divert there.However, a discrepancy might exist between USAID’s belief and American taxpayers’ beliefs concerning foreign aid.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 69 percent of Americans agreed the United States has a “moral responsibility” to “reduce hunger in the world.” Few of the Middle Eastern countries receiving the most U.S. aid have a high Global Hunger Index score though. Africa and South Asia have many more countries with higher GHI scores than the Middle East.The issue of where U.S. foreign assistance should go is complicated. Some tough questions need answering, and getting answers requires debate. Should aid remain primarily strategic? Should countries like Jordan, which the World Bank classifies as an upper-middle-income economy, continue to receive the bulk of assistance? Should the United States be doing more with economic assistance to end global hunger? One thing is certain: since American taxpayers have money invested in this issue, their voices should factor in the debate.

Ryan Yanke

Sources: USAID 1, USAID 2, USAID 3, USAID 4, USAID 5, USAID 6, USAID 7, Central Intelligence Agency, The World Bank, National Priorities Project, National Priorities Project, The White House, Center for Global Development, Federation of American Scientists, World Hunger, International Food Policy Research Institute, The Bottom Billion
Photo: BET