In a scene depicted in the Tom Hanks movie Charlie Wilson’s War, Congressman Wilson unsuccessfully pleads with Congress to build schools and improve conditions for people in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in the late 1980s. He foreshadows that no good can come from allowing a population of millions of young, hopeless people to live in squalor.
In the following years, it turns out he was right: extremism engulfed Afghanistan and the Taliban took control of the country providing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda with a safe haven to operate and plan the 9/11 attacks.
In light of the recent tragedies involving American journalists such as Jim Foley, the Middle Eastern paramilitary organization ISIS, or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has risen to worldwide infamy. However, Obama’s belligerent response to these barbaric actions, that “the U.S. would not change its military posture in Iraq in response to the killing of journalist James Foley…[pressing] ahead by conducting nearly a dozen airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq” reveals a fatal flaw in recent US foreign policy. While these short term fixes might temporarily curtail further action, our painful past and Charlie Wilson’s War reveal that they certainly do not ensure long-term peace and stability.
Instead, what we do need, as emphasized by Congressman Wilson, is to be sending books and supplies, not bombs and snipers. Our Armed Forces will always be the cornerstone of our security, but they must be complemented. Our security also depends on diplomats who can act in every corner of the world, from grand capitals to dangerous outposts. We need development experts who can strengthen governance and support human dignity. Such diplomacy and development capabilities must help prevent conflict, spur economic growth, strengthen weak and failing states, lift people out of poverty, combat climate change and epidemic disease, and strengthen institutions of democratic governance.
The White House agrees, stating, “Proactively investing in stronger societies and human welfare is far more effective and efficient than responding after state collapse.”
In March of 2010, fifty retired three and four star generals called on Congress to increase funding for the International Affairs Budget. The Generals noted that investments, non-military tools of development, and diplomacy foster economic and political stability on a global scale. It also strengthens our allies and fights the spread of poverty, disease, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction.
Similarly, countless former and current U.S. soldiers have expressed concern that the United States is not doing enough to address global poverty. Others have been fortunate enough to be part of the increasing number of humanitarian missions aimed at weakening the influence of terrorist groups in poor regions. Army Sgt. C.J. Rueda described his role in the Philippines:
“The goal is to increase support for the government in areas known to be heavy in terrorist recruitment and in drug trafficking. Poor countries are a breeding ground for terrorists, and that’s why we’re here — to enlighten the population, support security forces and educate the children to make their country better.”
However, despite the clear economic and domestic importance and incredible amount of upper-echelon military support, this call to better fund aid and development programs has fallen on death ears.
Congress and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a 40% cut to international aid funding in 2011. Compared to the gargantuan $663 billion that goes toward military spending, the $30 billion, less than 1% of the federal budget, that goes into programs that assist the world’s needy was slashed by nearly half.
And as history has shown, our disastrous decision to cut global aid will have negative ramifications not only on worldwide poverty and future conflicts, but also on the average American budget very close in the near future.
Aid statistics – OECD. (2010, April 14). Retrieved August 21, 2014.
Blanchflower, K. (2008, April 5). Another poor year for overseas aid. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
Fox News, I. (2014, August 20). ‘Entire World Is Appalled’: Obama Reacts to ISIS Beheading of American Journalist. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
Global Poverty and U.S. Jobs – The Borgen Project. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2014.
United States Department of Defense Releases Fiscal 2010 Budget Proposal. (2009, May 7). Retrieved August 21, 2014.
Image Credit: Screen Capture from ISIS Video