If President Trump really feels the need to cut foreign aid, he should take a close look at the Pentagon’s “shadow” security assistance programs — programs that are buried deep in the department’s budget, where they are largely shielded from scrutiny by the news media, the public and most members of Congress.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Pentagon has created dozens of new arms and training programs within its own budget, at a cost of about $10 billion per year, in support of activities in more than 130 countries, according to the Security Assistance Monitor. This is small change by Pentagon standards, but more than three times the value of the domestic programs that are on the White House’s “hit list,” including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, and funding for Planned Parenthood, Legal Services, AmeriCorps and the Export-Import Bank.
This is more than an issue of simple budget trade-offs. The truth is, Pentagon arms and training programs often do more harm than good. Over $500 million has gone to programs aimed at arming and training Syrian rebels that have essentially collapsed, with the unintended consequence of having United States-supplied arms fall into the hands of the Islamic State via the black market. In Yemen, $500 million in American weapons went missing in the middle of that country’s civil war and are believed to now be in the hands of either Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or the Houthi rebels.
In the most infamous example, despite $25 billion in arms and training over many years, the Iraqi military evaporated in the face of attacks by the Islamic State, leaving behind large quantities of United States-supplied vehicles, guns and ammunition that have since been put to use by the jihadists in Iraq and Syria. …
As the Congressional Research Service noted in 2015 after carefully reviewing the Pentagon’s rapidly proliferating military aid programs, “the assumption that building foreign security forces will have tangible U.S. national security benefits remains a largely untested proposition.”
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