Cuts to foreign aid laid out in the White House’s proposed 2018 budget could have a dramatic effect on human rights, development and the environment around the world, advocates warn.
The budget has little chance of passing in Congress, but does serve as a powerful statement of the Trump administration’s priorities — priorities that have advocates concerned.
“It’s devastating, and it’s drastic,” said Robert Bank, president and CEO of the American Jewish World Service, a leading Jewish advocacy group, of the proposed cuts. “This upends essentially three decades of work around the world.”
The White House budget, released Tuesday, takes a chainsaw to the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. The budget would cut health programs by 24% and aid to international organizations by 44%, according to Reuters. It would slash funding for U.N. peacekeeping missions and limit funds for emergency overseas disaster response. Programs promoting green energy and sustainable land use would be shut down. Money for refugee aid would also be slashed.
“The Budget proposes to reduce or end direct funding for international programs and organizations whose missions do not substantially advance U.S. foreign policy interests,” the White House said in a budget document.
For Bank, the cuts would amount to a catastrophe. “These are cruel and radical cuts,” Bank said. “They will impact the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.” Bank said that all of the hundreds of organizations that AJWS works with around the world would be impacted. He said he was particularly concerned about the impact of cuts to family planning and reproductive health programs. But he said that local groups might have a harder time seeking redress for human rights abuses, or finding economic support.
“The impact on the people we support would be dire,” he said.
Advance warning of the budget proposal drew critical responses from across the world. The president of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, told Newsweek that the proposed cuts would be a boon for terrorist recruitment in parts of Africa. “Where you cannot create economic opportunities, these rural areas all across Africa where agriculture ought to be working will simply become a recruiting field for terrorists,” Adenisa said. “I’m sure that’s not in the interests of the United States nor any other country.”
Even Republican leaders in Congress has spoken out against the White House position. Back in March, when the White House first outlined the proposed cuts, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told the Associated Press that they wouldn’t pass the Senate. “Diplomacy is important, extremely important, and I don’t think these reductions at the State Department are appropriate because many times diplomacy is a lot more effective — and certainly cheaper — than military engagement,” McConnell said.
A group of 120 retired U.S. generals have also written a letter opposing the cuts.
For Bank, it’s a betrayal of decades-old principles of America’s role in the global order. “It goes back to the idea that the American government was going to be a leader in the world around foreign assistance,” Bank said. “It connects to the whole idea of what a country in the developed world should do and care about when it is concerned about foreign assistance.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.