Why “America First” Is Bad For National Security

America FirstThe nationalist wave is sweeping across the United States in the form of Donald Trump’s America First foreign policy. But isolationist policies can indirectly fuel the very threats that nationalists seek to keep out.

Donald Trump’s America First platform is unapologetically nationalist, built on hardline immigration policies, a pledge to bring jobs back to American soil and drastic cuts to foreign aid. But U.S. policies that encourage isolation and show no concern for the health of the global economy could have unintended consequences and pose a serious threat to our national security.

Global conflicts and civil wars create refugees, decrease educational opportunities and deprive people of their basic needs. These conditions have been widely reported to breed political unrest and give rise to extremist groups such as ISIS. Just last year, Daniel Byman told the Washington Post, “terrorist groups don’t emerge out of nowhere, and wars are perhaps the richest soil for seeding and growing violent groups of all stripes.”

For the year 2017, the United States has allocated $42 billion to foreign aid. These funds are earmarked for important causes such as Peace & Security, Humanitarian Assistance and Economic Development. Foreign aid benefits our economy through increased trade opportunities with developing countries. It also keeps us safe by preventing or seeking to end conflicts abroad and the national security threats that come along with such conflicts.

A common argument for cutting U.S. foreign aid, most common among conservatives, is that it is an unnecessary expense that we cannot afford with such a large national debt. But at $42 billion, foreign aid accounts for just 1 percent of the budget. This pales in comparison to the over $600 billion a year that the U.S. spends on its military.

While some conservatives may not see the benefits of foreign aid, many prominent Republicans have spoken out against President Trump’s drastic cuts. Former president George W. Bush acknowledged the link between foreign aid and national security earlier this year and told NPR, “When you have an entire generation of people being wiped out and the free world turns its back, it provides a convenient opportunity for people to spread extremism.”

Many former generals have also been vocal about the need to protect the U.S. Foreign Assistance budget. Many retired three- and four-star generals sent a letter to Congress earlier this year to stress the importance of USAID for our national security. Gen. James Mattis, our current Secretary of Defense, has also made strong comments about the importance of foreign assistance in promoting peace.

It is important to let our knowledge of this link between regional conflicts around the world and U.S. national security threats inform the debate around our current president’s America First agenda. We need to learn to see foreign aid as an important investment in our national security as well as a way for the United States to be a leader in creating a more peaceful and prosperous world.

– Aaron Childree

Photo: Flickr