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How Trump undermined US aid

While it is the world’s largest provider of foreign assistance in terms of dollars, America falls near the bottom of the OECD countries when spending is compared to its gross national income.

Yet for decades, the US has remained the biggest player on the global stage thanks to its sheer spending power – a role that has been dramatically undermined during the Trump presidency due to the constant spectre of cuts.

“Even when they’re not realised, the act of proposing deep cuts can be damaging,” says Erin Collinson, director of US policy outreach at the Center for Global Development. Not only were long-term relationships damaged, but the constant juggling of staff, programmes and budgets meant that NGOs were forced to focus more on admin than actually delivering their priorities. 

Foreign aid also became a bargaining chip under President Trump. 

The most blatant example was in Ukraine – a leaked recording of a phone call showed the administration had withheld military aid while pressuring the country to investigate Joe Biden’s family. As a result, Mr Trump became only the third president in history to be impeached.

But his administration also cut off funding to the West Bank and Gaza and re-routed money from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – where most of those who attempt to migrate to the US originate – to Colombia and Venezuela.

But Mr Green says that is something that he actively advocated for. 

“It goes back to the story I always tell about how I joined the Trump administration,” he says. A friend-of-a-friend linked him with Mr Trump and they met in New York to talk about development. 

“My pitch was very simple: I said, My Trump, I think if we do development right, it can help you take on just about every one of your foreign policy priorities.” 

He says he wanted to show “those who perhaps had little experience with development or foreign assistance” that it could be “an important tool for American leadership”. 

That is nothing new, experts say, who also praise Mr Green’s reorganization of USAID under the occasionally tricky circumstances. 

“The Cold War is littered with examples where the US used assistance for short-term international political reasons,” says MFAN’s Mr Savoy. “This administration has really turned it on its head for its own domestic political reasons.”

But, Mr Green adds, USAID has also attempted to harness the President’s world view for its own gain. 

“Trump is a businessman,” he says. “I think by instinct, his outlook is commerce based and transactional. But working with us, we tried to harness that.”

Sometimes, that worked – at least to an extent. For example, President Trump was happy to try to use aid to tackle one of what he saw as his key problems: the rise of China. 

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