Money Talks: United States Domestic vs. Foreign Affairs

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash.

Universal healthcare?  Free college tuition?  No more people who are homeless on the street?  That would be an ideal society; a society where no one is struggling.

In order to implement those programs, the United States government would have to invest a lot of money.  So, the question is, “Does the United States have this money?”  The answer is yes, sort of. The United States could invest more in national social programs if it diverted funds from other initiatives such as foreign aid.

The United States is known for sending foreign aid to its allies overseas.  Currently, the United States is aiding two countries in their wars, Ukraine and Israel, at the same time that its citizenry is struggling to find affordable housing, pay down student loan debt, and meet healthcare expenses.  This leads us to first ask: why does the United States government send aid to foreign allies, how does it decide who receives aid, and what is the process for distributing aid?  Then, what domestic programs could benefit from the monies that currently go to U.S. allies?

History of Foreign Aid

The history of foreign aid dates back to the 1800s, when communication between countries became more prominent and international interests were on different governments’ radars.  Through aid, countries formed relationships with each other which, in turn, was beneficial to their own respective governments.   The United States government is internationally known for being a world superpower, from its military strength to how much revenue it generates.  Our government is known for its ability to influence other nations to take certain actions that it finds beneficial, but also for taking matters into its own hands when it deems it necessary.  The United States uses aid as leverage in influencing actions around the world, whether it be for policy or military action.

The United States is notorious for sending out monetary contributions and military aid to countries throughout the world when it believes those countries are in need of it.  Sending aid to allies is not a new concept, and many countries throughout the world do it in an attempt to help out their allies when they are in need.  Typically, the concept of sending aid to other countries is a sign of strength and friendship with the expectation that one day it will be returned if needed.  From World War II until now, the United States has given out approximately $3.75 trillion in foreign aid (that number is adjusted for inflation and stops at 2021 as the Department of Defense has not yet computed the total number for 2022 and 2023).

The United States and Ukraine

This leads us to the United States’ aid to Ukraine.  Many people believe that the United States’ aid to Ukraine started when Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022; yet,  the aid dates back to 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine.  One of the main reasons that the United States sends aid to Ukraine is to advance the U.S.’s national security interests. A defeat in Ukraine would mean that Russia would advance towards a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) border, making the United States and its allies more vulnerable to Russian aggression.  On the other hand, a Ukrainian victory would be a big step toward peace and prosperity throughout the region, and the world.  Aside from the United States protecting its interests, Ukraine also has a right to defend itself from invasions from outside countries, no matter who that country is.  It is a beautiful thing when the world unites in order to support one another, but sometimes lines are blurred when the aid is continuously going to a place that may not need it.  The preservation of democratic states across the globe is an important initiative to the United States and its allies.

Since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United States has given Ukraine $76.8 billion, with about $46.6 billion of that being dedicated toward Ukraine’s military.  Moving back to the 2014 invasion of Ukraine, that amount increases by only about $100 million, really showing how much money the United States has dedicated to its ally. 

The United States’ Involvement in the Middle East

This leads us to discuss the United States’ greatest ally in the Middle East: Israel.  The United States was the first country in the world to recognize Israel as a country when it was created in 1948.  The U.S. has given unconditional support to Israel in the decades since its formation.  The United States has interests in the Middle East and a strong U.S.–Israel relationship will allow each of their respective interests to be achieved.  These interests vary from military interests, as Israel is strategically located between Russia, Iran, and Turkey, to pure allyship, allowing the United States to have a strong friendship in an important region.

Annually since 2016, the United States has committed to sending $3.8 billion to Israel in Foreign Military Financing with an additional $500 million for missile defense funding.  Additionally, in 2022, the United States gave Israel an additional $1 billion to replenish its missile receptor machine, which is part of the Iron Dome.  Most recently, President Joe Biden asked Congress for a whopping $100 billion to send to Ukraine and Israel.  While that aid package failed to advance in the Senate, the United States government is still sending over aid in smaller amounts through executive orders and other measures that bypass Congress.

The process of sending aid overseas isn’t complicated.  Each government decides to whom and where it wants to send money and asks for Congressional approval.  Additionally, Congress itself can bring forth a vote to send money abroad for whatever reason it chooses.  The less popular way is just by Presidential authority when the President bypasses Congress and other legislative processes and sends the money overseas through an independent department, like the Pentagon.  This all relates to the Congressional Power of the Purse, which is essentially the “nation’s checkbook.”  Through the Power of the Purse, Congress can allot money that is contingent on the President releasing it, which is done through executive order.  That is how the President can send funds overseas without Congressional approval.

In addition to sending aid to Israel, the United States has committed itself to achieving peace among Israel and other countries in the region.   In 2020, the Trump administration hosted a summit at the White House during which Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Israel signed the Abraham Accords.  The Accords created diplomatic relations between the countries and recognized Israel’s sovereignty.

The Significance of Sending Money Abroad

The amount of money the United States sends overseas, especially when countries abroad are at war, adds up quickly.  The state of affairs of the United States right now, when it comes to student debt, homelessness, and the lack of healthcare for all, is crippling our society.  While people in the United States are faced with crippling medical bills and student loan debt, people in Israel receive free healthcare and college tuition at a fraction of the price that we pay in the United States.

If the United States was to commit to having free college for all, it would cost less than 1% of the annual $5.3 trillion federal budget annually.  Funding the cost of higher education would alleviate Americans of a major expense, while also encouraging more people to get a college degree.  Crippling debt has the potential to lead people into bankruptcy and homelessness, which is steadily increasing within the United States, as well.  According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it would cost about $20 billion to end homelessness in the United States.  To put that money into perspective, the United States government spent around $718 billion on its military, just in 2019.  It would cost our government $1.1 trillion a year to have universal healthcare for everyone in the United States and about $1.6 trillion to get rid of all federal student loans.  While those numbers do seem massive when compared to the $2.2 trillion military budget, it is not that much.  Spending the money on those initiatives will not only help people within our border but will make our country stronger.

As previously mentioned, President Biden had proposed to Congress to send over $100 billion of U.S. taxpayer money to Ukraine and Israel.  The proposed amount that could end homelessness is one-fifth the amount that President Biden wanted to send overseas.

The issue here is not that the government does not have money for the problems that we are facing within the borders of the United States, but rather that the United States government has chosen to use the money to aid our allies and influence global foreign policy.  Fiscal responsibility is important when considering how to efficiently use American taxpayer dollars.  While it is important to help our allies across the world and send money to areas that need it, it is just as important to not forget those within U.S. borders who need the assistance of the government to survive.

The United States government needs to find a balance between spending our money within U.S. borders and how much to send overseas. The federal government cannot continue to neglect its own citizens while prioritizing the health and safety of another country. If the money that is being sent overseas right now can be used to fund initiatives that will end homelessness, help with the rising costs of higher education and healthcare, and so much more, our country will be much stronger than it already is.

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About Dema Alqudwah (3 Articles)
Dema Alqudwah is a third-year law student at Campbell. She is a first generation Palestinian-American and is a native of Raleigh, NC. She went to NC State University where she majored in Political Science and minored in Human Biology. In her free time, she loves spending time with her Goldendoodle, Mace. She hopes to one day pursue a career in family law.