Today in The Guardian, Bill Easterly describes how U.S. foreign aid programs have been "taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building" since George W. Bush announced increased aid funding in 2002:
The resultant failures overshadowed notable successes in more traditional aid programmes like health. These disasters and the neglect of more feasible poverty relief failed to sustain the compassionate constituency evident earlier in the decade.
Easterly therefore reccommends building a "firewall" between Defense and U.S. aid programs. If you're going to fund foreign aid, you may as well do things like vaccinate kids against deadly diseases or provide antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive patients instead of throwing funding at too-grandiose-not-to-fail nation-building efforts.
Yet half of U.S. aid increases following President Bush's announcement went to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. "Another fifth," Easterly notes, "went to other violent, corrupt or autocratic places where 'nation-building' also had little chance of succeeding, such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia."
As Congress considers whether (or where) to slice foreign aid funding, you'd think that money for extravagant nation-building programs would look like warm butter. Still, Easterly writes, a current House proposal features smaller cuts in aid to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan than anywhere and everywhere else on the planet.
As I wrote in a recent piece about the Millennium Villages Project, George Soros et al. dropping loads of money on aid projects for a handful of African villages might improve those villagers' lives. But it isn't likely to lead to long-term development. Similarly, U.S. aid programs may be able to vaccinate a lot of children around the world, but don't expect them to build successful nation-states anytime soon.
Read more Reason on nation-building.