September 28th, 2011
06:02 PM ET

Should America give money to countries that hate it?

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter

By James M.

Last week’s Republican presidential debate had an online video question from a voter asking why “we send billions of dollars overseas to people who hate us.” It’s not only average Americans who are asking the question. As my colleague Ed Husain points out in his new blog, “The Arab Street,” Idaho Republican senator James Risch struck the same note: “Frankly, I’m getting tired of it, and I think Americans are getting tired of it as far as shoveling money in there at people who just flat don’t like us.”

Here’s a chart listing the ten biggest recipients of U.S. aid in 2010 along with how favorably the publics in those countries view the United States.

It’s a mixed bag. The publics in three countries (Israel, Kenya, and Nigeria) like us; the publics in two countries (Afghanistan and Mexico) are ambivalent; the publics in three countries (Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan) are hostile; and we don’t have reliable data on the publics in two countries (Haiti and Iraq).

Should the United States slash aid to countries that don’t like us? No, or at least not because we think they should show more gratitude. Washington doles out aid primarily based on calculations about how to advance U.S. strategic interests rather than assessments of pure need, which is why Afghanistan, Israel, and Pakistan top the list of aid recipients rather than Burundi, Congo, and Mali. Nor are foreign publics necessarily being ingrates when they don’t hold favorable views of the United States. They may dislike other aspects of U.S. foreign policy, see the aid propping up an unpopular government or lining the pockets of corrupt elites (common complaints among Americans as well), or not even know that their country receives U.S. aid.

With respect to this last point, CFR ran a project a few years back that did focus groups with Egyptians, Moroccans, and Indonesians. One of the findings was that in all three countries people vastly underestimated how much aid the U.S. government gave their countries and did not know what it was spent on. As they learned more about U.S. aid programs, they looked upon the United States more favorably. Unfortunately, there are practical obstacles to advertising U.S. aid to local publics.  They will see “From the American People” on sacks of food during a famine. They won’t see “From the American People” on a plaque on a new turbine at a power plant. Worse yet, in some countries stamping “From the American People” on a building or new bus would increase the chances of it being targeted in a terrorist attack.

But the overall lesson is clear: if you are giving aid solely to be liked, be prepared for disappointment.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James Lindsay.

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Topics: Aid

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Elliot

    For what are small percentages of our economy, it is a good gamble that some influential people in the countries can be convinced that we are the good guys. Having a few people in each country not hate us is better than having 100% hate us. Of course we can always take Randy Newman's advice in his song "Political Science" which although almost forty years old is still relevant.

    October 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Reply
  2. Jahbulon

    There are two problems with your question:

    1) At this point in time the question should be "Should we borrow money from China and hand it out to foreign countries"?

    2) There is no correlation between US handouts and public opinion because the money is usually used to bribe foreign leaders that can then be used for contradictory political agendas. The money is never given to the citizens of those countries and I don't see why it should be tied to their favorability rating!

    October 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  3. Cyberkick


    October 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Reply
  4. Cyberkick


    October 2, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  5. lanse

    how about keeping the american tax funded aid here at home for a change !

    October 2, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  6. Aglow

    In Russia, this situation is going to Chechnya and Dagestan, they hate Russian, but at the same time in these republics are sent huge funds that they lost as a black hole and never returns from these funds will not be

    October 3, 2011 at 5:01 am | Reply
  7. jbm66

    We should not give money to any country period. I am a big supporter of Israel and I still do not see any reason to give them money. They are doing fine by themselves. But especially the countries that hate us, the hell with them...

    October 3, 2011 at 8:12 am | Reply
  8. JB


    November 15, 2011 at 9:39 am | Reply
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