US Foreign Aid: Bad for America, Bad for the World

Hundreds (RGBStock)

Ahead of a vote in the United Nations’ General Assembly on a resolution condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,  president Donald Trump and UN ambassador Nikki Haley threatened states voting for the resolution with the loss of US financial aid. “We’re watching those votes” said Trump. “Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.”

A good call on Trump’s part. Now it’s time to follow through. Not because the US lost the UN vote, but because US foreign aid is an inherently disastrous budget item that needs to go. Trump seems to understand that. This is an issue he’s already begun to address with his 2018 budget proposal, which if adopted as written would have cut the US foreign aid budget from $30 billion to $25 billion per year. The more quickly that number moves toward $0, the better for America and the better for recipients of largess from the American government.

Supporters of foreign aid love to point out that it constitutes less than 1% of the federal budget. True, but that 1% comes with lots of strings attached for both parties.

When the US government throws money at another country’s government, it instantly becomes entangled in that country’s problems — internal and external, economic and military, every problem of every sort. For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction — when America tries to be the good guy for Country A,  America also ends up being the bad guy for Country B, and/or for domestic opponents of Country A’s political establishment. The potential negative consequences of such entanglements include, but aren’t limited to, terrorism and war.

On the receiving side, well, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Washington wants things for its money — things ranging from support for its military adventures to distortions on the recipients’ economies imposed through politics for the benefit of this or that set of corporate cronies. In many cases, the lunch is not just un-free, but insanely over-priced.

Even at current levels, the US foreign aid budget comes to less than $100 per year per American*. That’s not an argument for keeping it. It’s an argument for leaving foreign aid to the private charitable “market.” Americans spend ten times as much on coffee each year!

If you or I want to “support Israel” or “donate to Kenya” or “fight starvation in India,” we can easily afford to do so in like or greater amounts than the federal government does, individually or as members of voluntary organizations, and without those terrible strings attached.

  • In the original version of this column, my math skills failed me and I somehow came up with $10, rather than the correct $100, per capita estimate. Thanks to commenter “supremeborg” at for pointing out my error.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Trump’s “National Security Strategy” is the Opposite of National Security

English: Donald Trump's signature.
English: Donald Trump’s signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Goldwater-Nichols Act requires the president to submit a “National Security Strategy” report each year. Every president since Ronald Reagan has failed to comply with the law in one or more years of his administration, but on December 17 Donald Trump issued his report.

Unfortunately, Trump’s offering is of a piece with his prior displays of economic illiteracy and foreign policy jingoism. It’s a dog’s breakfast of policy pronouncements that couldn’t be more opposed to real “national security” if that had been the author’s intention.

The document reiterates Trump’s commitment to economic protectionism in the guise of “fair and reciprocal” trade, rattles sabers at Russia, China, and North Korea, and commits to extending decades of disastrous US military adventurism in the Middle East.

Trump’s distant predecessors showed us what a real “National Security Strategy” would look like.

At the end of his two terms as president, George Washington warned in his farewell address that “[t]he great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”

Thomas Jefferson echoed that sentiment in his first inaugural address, announcing a doctrine of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.”

While serving as US Secretary of State, future president John Quincy Adams observed that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Those principles served the US well to the extent that they were followed —  with a few exceptions, throughout the 19th century. But since the Spanish-American War of 1898, the US has increasingly styled itself an imperial power, attempting to dictate to the world at a cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives and millions more abroad, as well as trillions of dollars redirected from productive endeavors to paying the butcher’s bill. The 20th century was a near-continuous orgy of bloodshed which, for the US, was entirely optional.

A real “National Security Strategy” comes down to two things: Free trade, and minding our own business.

Early in his presidential campaign, Trump hinted at the latter, but quickly reverted to business as usual. He’s clearly never grasped the former at all. Unfortunate, as the two are also the elements of a great presidency, if such a thing is even possible.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


A Crowdfunding Proposal: UFOs Deserve Better and More Public Investigation

F/A-18 UFO Encounter
Screen shot from a video released by US Defense Department’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, showing an encounter between a US Navy F/A-18 and an Unidentified Flying Object [public domain].
Between 2007 and 2012, the New York Times reports, a secret US Department of Defense program received $22 million to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Although it no longer receives dedicated funding, the program apparently continues as a part-time effort pursued by personnel with other duties.

Among the public, opinion on UFOs runs the gamut from belief that the whole idea is a product of fevered imaginations to conviction that Earth is frequently visited by extraterrestrial beings possessed of technologies beyond our ken. But all along that spectrum there remain good reasons to investigate UFOs.

Unknown objects in traveled airspace represent a potential danger to commercial airline traffic. Finding out what they are makes sense. If they’re harmless mirages, methods of screening them out can be developed. If they’re dangerous physical phenomena — natural or artificial in origin — better ways of detecting and responding to them are called for.

The defense and security implications of advanced aircraft flying with impunity through a state’s claimed airspace under the control of an unknown intelligence are obvious. Should that turn out to be the case, it seems to me that information on the phenomenon should be shared among states. If there’s a threat, it is presumably to Earth itself, not only to a particular government. And even if not, the interests of science and of humankind in those facts do not stop at national borders.

The nature of the UFO phenomenon is such that investigations of it shouldn’t be entrusted to any single government, or for that matter to government at all.

On the other hand, most current private sector investigations seem at first blush to labor under heavy confirmation bias. That is, those who are interested in investigating UFOs either want or don’t want them to be alien spacecraft and therefore find reasons to conclude that that’s what they are or aren’t.

It seems to me that UFO research is the perfect endeavor for a respected university to get into using “crowdfunding” — asking the general public to contribute, then spending the money to hire qualified researchers from applicable fields (meteorology, aerospace engineering, etc.) who evince no agendas beyond dogged pursuit of the truth, and putting them to work.

It seems eminently doable. Wikipedia’s list of top crowdfunded projects by amount raised lists 15 which have knocked down more than the $22 million put into the Pentagon’s hands by Congress.

The extent of governments’ involvement in such crowdfunded research should be limited to legal requirements that information generated by those governments be made available to the researchers, along with any security clearances required to examine it.

The truth, as The X-Files TV series told us, is out there. Isn’t it about time we went and found it?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.