In the State of the Union Address, Trump Sought to Peg US Foreign Assistance to How a Country Votes in the UN

During the State of the Union address President Trump restated a threat to cut American foreign assistance to countries that somehow oppose American interests. Here’s what President Trump said last night.

Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the Senate just months before:  I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this recognition.  American taxpayers generously send those same countries billions of dollars in aid every year.

That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends.

 In a statement following the address, Nikki Haley echoed her boss’ sentiment

Across the world, and at the UN, we are standing up for our allies and our ideals again, paying close attention to who stands with us and who goes against us. America will continue to be a generous country – because it is the American way – but as the President has said, we are done writing blank checks to countries who act against us. It’s a new day – and a great day – for America.

A threat to cut foreign assistance to countries who do not side with the United States in the General Assembly was first aired in the days before a vote that condemned the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel.

Well, the vote occurred. 128 countries voting in favor of the resolution, 9 against; and 35 abstentions. Voting with the majority of of the world were six out of the seven top recipients of US foreign aid. Only Uganda abstained from the resolution.

  • Afghanistan ($US650,000,000)
  • Jordan ($US635,800,000)
  • Kenya ($US632,500,000)
  • Tanzania ($US534,500,000)
  • Uganda ($US435,500,000)
  • Zambia ($US428,525,000)
  • Nigeria ($US413,300,000)

If this threat is indeed carried out, and if the United States does peg its foreign assistance dollars to individual votes at the United Nations, it would mark a radical transformation of US foreign assistance policy.

It would mean that countries that the United States considers key strategic partners in the fight against terrorism would suddenly lose American support. So, for example, funds that Afghanistan receives to help build its institutions — say its police force or education system — would dry up.

The next largest recipient of US (non military) foreign aid is Jordan. Thanks in large part to US support, Jordan is a stable government at peace with Israel. It is a key strategic partner in the region that has absorbed millions of Syrian refugees. Should this assistance end, the kingdom could be thrown into chaos, potentially giving rise to a government far more hostile to American interests and to its neighbor, Israel.

Kenya is also home to millions of refugees–mostly from Somalia, and mostly who have fled the violence of al Shebaab. It is also a major US strategic partner in countering al Shebaab in Somalia–having once deployed a military campaign the beat back the terrorist group. Cutting off us assistance to Kenya would punish a country that has been a stalwart ally of the United States in fighting terrorism in East Africa — all over a disagreement of the value and utility of the Trump administration’s decision to unilaterally declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

The point is, how a country votes at the United Nations is only one indication of its value to American national interests. In most cases, casting a symbolic vote chastising an ally over a foolhardy move is of far less significance to other aspects of that bi-lateral relationship. Countries can disagree on certain issues, but still be key strategic partners. The choice is not binary–and the President of the United States need not take these votes as personal affronts.