President Trump is disrupting a foreign policy establishment truism dating to the days of the Marshall Plan.
For places such as Syria, North Korea, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories, the White House is making clear that the U.S. has no interest in embarking on the expensive nation-building missions that have characterized American conflicts of the postwar era.
President Trump’s skepticism of U.S. aid programs is no surprise given his long pre-White House record and his comments on the campaign trail in 2016, but he has taken that opposition a step further in office by pre-emptively announcing that U.S. taxpayers won’t be on the hook even in ongoing crises such as the Syrian civil war and North Korean nuclear activity.
“We won’t have to help them,” President Trump told reporters in Singapore after his landmark summit in June with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un when asked about U.S. aid to build up the North’s primitive economy.
“The United States has been paying a big price at a lot of different places, but South Korea, which obviously is right next door, and Japan, which essentially is next door, they’re going to be helping them. … So they will be helping them,” Mr. Trump said at the time.
In the past week, the Trump administration has announced that it was ending funding to the U.N. agency that provides services to Palestinian refugees — reportedly over the objections of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — and confirmed the cancellation of $300 million in military aid to Pakistan to express displeasure over Islamabad’s record on fighting terrorist groups.
In many of the hot spots where American forces are or have been engaged, the Trump administration has reined in U.S.-led reconstruction efforts and demanded that other countries step up.
Case in point: the administration’s decision late last month to cancel $230 million earmarked for rebuilding Syria as the country’s devastating 7-year-old civil war appears to be winding to a conclusion.
President Trump last month considered but decided against rescinding some $3 billion that Congress had allocated to the U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department. The plan was to return the money to the Treasury.
State Department officials, at the direction of the White House, have shifted the roughly $200 million set aside for Syrian reconstruction toward other department priorities. The bulk of the funds to aid in Syria’s recovery will be derived from a $300 million allocation from allies in the U.S.-led coalition, including $100 million from Saudi Arabia, to fight Islamic State and other jihadi groups.
“Many coalition partners have made pledges and contributions in recent months, and the United States appreciates all partners who have stepped up to support this critical effort,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Friday while announcing the plan to shift funding.
Rex W. Tillerson, as Mr. Trump’s first secretary of state, spearheaded the effort to dedicate U.S. funds toward Syrian reconstruction. The reconstruction and aid effort in Syria, as well as other areas of the world, have flamed out since his departure in March.
Analysts Andrew Miller and Seth Binder, writing this week on the law and security blog Just Security, said the Trump administration’s determination to preserve a $1.3 billion annual aid package to Egypt while cutting back spending for post-conflict Syria and in impoverished Palestinian territories represents misguided priorities.
“It is not unreasonable to seek to recalibrate the U.S. investment in the region,” they wrote. “But the administration will neither save taxpayer money nor put American interests first by selectively targeting civilian assistance programs to Syria and the West Bank and Gaza.
Questioning the template
The post-World War II Marshall Plan had long been seen as a template to U.S. foreign policy, using American aid and trade clout to rebuild allies and enemies alike to restart the European economy and promote a U.S.-led international economic order.
But administration supporters say President Trump is introducing a needed element of “tough love” by forcing recipient nations and regional countries directly affected by crises to step up their own efforts. The special inspector’s sharply critical reports on U.S. aid and reconstruction spending in Afghanistan have provided aid skeptics with repeated ammunition in their arguments.
In its announcement Friday that it will soon end U.S. payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, the State Department cited in part what it said was the agency’s failure to “mobilize adequate and appropriate burden-sharing.”
“The fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years — tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries — is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years,” the State Department said. “The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.”
As with Syria, President Trump has repeatedly indicated that the U.S. will take a back seat in any program to rebuild North Korea’s fractured economy if Pyongyang follows through with efforts to denuclearize. That would leave Japan, South Korea and other U.S. allies to bear the fiscal burden.
“I think that South Korea and I think that Japan will help them very greatly,” he said in Singapore, citing in part how far the U.S. is from North Korea. “I think they are prepared to help them. They know they’re going to have to help them.”
A new stamp on policy
The approach has been consistent virtually from the day Mr. Trump entered the Oval Office, despite opposition from some of President Trump’s early appointees and from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who have long supported foreign aid programs. Click here to continue reading.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 6th, 2018