These $ 4 billion foreign aid projects can be undone to finance larger stimulus checks

The $ 900 billion coronavirus stimulus project agreed by lawmakers has sparked fury among American voters and lawmakers, with warnings that the $ 600 per person payments ordered by legislation are inadequate and arrive too late to help many Americans whose lives were overturned by the pandemic.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday added his voice to bipartisan criticism of the “ridiculously low” sum and demanded that lawmakers increase payments to $ 2,000 per person.

Lawmakers also passed a $ 1.4 trillion overhead bill, consisting of 12 separate bills to finance the government during fiscal year 2021. This was not part of the coronavirus stimulus package, but included a series of foreign aid payments that critics now argue should be discarded to fund more generous coronavirus checks for Americans.

This is a sensitive area for voters and legislators. Although foreign aid typically accounts for about 1% of the entire federal budget, the public perception is that the United States contributes much more. Polls suggest that Americans believe the country spends up to a third of its entire budget on foreign aid.

Eliminating foreign aid alone would release a relatively small amount in the federal budget. Still, Trump highlighted these measures. “Congress found a lot of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the minimum necessary to the American people who needed it,” said the president.

It would be wrong to frame foreign aid as free money for included countries, or charity by the United States. The government uses aid as a lever to coerce nations to behave better on issues such as human rights, or simply to align themselves more closely with American politics.

Reducing these commitments will weaken the United States’ hand in foreign policy and also leave vulnerable communities at greater risk of communal violence or state oppression. For opponents, it will be worth it if the money goes to Americans (of which there is no guarantee). But foreign policy experts and officials will back down in any attempt to undermine the United States’ influence abroad.

Egypt – which hopes to receive $ 1.3 billion in aid under the general law – is a good example. The country has been an ally of the US and a significant customer for American weapons, the advantage that Washington, DC has used to secure Cairo’s cooperation on security issues and with Israel.

In fact, the bill says that this money will be released if it is shown that Egypt is “sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States” and maintaining peace with Israel.

The $ 1.3 billion set aside for Egypt is primarily military aid and has several other conditions attached to it.

For example, $ 225 million will not be released until the Secretary of State tells Congress that the Egyptian government – headed by dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – has taken steps to improve its dire human rights situation, improve its besieged democratic institutions, protect women’s rights and strengthen the rule of law, among other things.

Another $ 75 million will be withheld until the Secretary of State confirms that the government is “making clear and consistent progress in the release of political prisoners and in providing detainees with due process”.

The project allows $ 40 million for higher education programs, of which $ 15 million will cover scholarships for Egyptian students who need financial assistance to attend nonprofit higher education institutions in Egypt.

But it all depends on Egypt’s conduct. The bill also says the country must take “consistent and effective measures to stabilize the economy and implement market-based economic reforms” – that is, to align its economy more closely with American capitalism.

Israel, Egypt’s neighbor, is also a major beneficiary of the general bill, having received $ 500 million in American funds. Funding for Israel has been a nightmare for American progressives and libertarians.

But the political establishment in the U.S. remains committed to its alliance with Israel, and eager to reap the benefits of Israeli military spending on American weapons, some of which are stipulated by law.

Of the funds, $ 50 million went to spending on Israeli short-range ballistic missiles with American companies. Another $ 77 million is for Israel to spend with American companies on the Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile system.

Elsewhere, the project provides support for “necessary expenses” under the Israel Arab Scholarship Program, which funds Israeli Arabs who attend higher education institutions in the United States. The bus also includes $ 5 million to support the refugee settlement in Israel.

Palestinian authorities will receive $ 250 million in economic aid over five years, assuming they remain committed to peaceful coexistence with Israel, take measures against terrorism in their territories and work for peace in the Middle East.

Other important beneficiaries include Sudan, which weeks after being removed from the State’s List of Terrorism Sponsors received $ 700 million in funds, although with stipulations that the country works for democracy, improves its human rights situation and that any new funded projects must be approved by parliamentary committees.

Ukraine, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia and Pakistan are all among those queuing to receive hundreds of millions of American aid. In each of them, the money is destined to promote democratic values ​​and human rights, and to link national governments to American foreign policy.

The $ 453 million set aside for Ukraine is to support the country in its ongoing war against Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. Military support represents $ 275 million of the total, including “lethal assistance” – that is, American weapons. The funding excludes the Azov Battalion, a powerful far-right paramilitary group in Ukraine that became influential after the 2014 revolution.

Nepal will receive $ 130 million to support its development and democracy efforts. Caught between India and China, Nepal has significant strategic value and is an important target for Beijing’s economic and diplomatic influence.

Another $ 6 million is set aside to protect “Tibetan culture and language development” among Tibetan refugee communities in Nepal and India. This issue remains a source of tension between the United States and China, which sought to destroy Tibetan culture and separatist sentiment.

The bill also rejects the Chinese invasion of Hong Kong, providing $ 3 million for “democracy and freedom on the Internet” and to provide “legal and other support for democracy activists” in the territory.

Burma’s $ 135 million will help “promote ethnic and religious tolerance” and mitigate ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority group Rohingya there. The money will help “sustain ceasefire agreements and new prospects for reconciliation and peace,” says the project.

Pakistan will receive $ 15 million “for democracy programs” and at least $ 10 million for “gender programs”, something that has generated scorn among critics of international aid. Senator Lindsey Graham specifically defended this measure, telling Fox News on Tuesday: “If you are a young woman in Pakistan, life is very difficult.”

Pakistan is among the countries where the bill will support the “recruitment, training and retention of women in the judiciary, police and other security forces, and in training judicial and security personnel in these countries to prevent and address violence. gender, human trafficking and other practices that disproportionately harm women and girls. “

Meanwhile, Cambodia will receive $ 85 million on the assumption that it repels the expansion of Chinese influence and claims in the South China Sea and supports international sanctions on North Korea. The money will not be released unless government forces “cease violence and harassment against civil society and political opposition”.

Another $ 506 million will go to Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama as part of the Central American Regional Security Initiative.

This project aims to improve security in these countries, which are fighting drug and gang-related violence. This turmoil is a key factor in the migration from Central America to the United States, a fundamental Trump complaint and fundamental to modern American nationalism.

Other programs at risk if foreign aid is cut off include the “transnational threat of poaching and wildlife trafficking”, for which the project distributes $ 101 million. Support for “internet freedom in closed societies” will receive $ 2.5 million in funding.

Capitol photographed amid stimulus negotiations on foreign aid
This archival photo shows people passing the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on December 16, 2020.