I agree with other editors that the real focus of our attention shouldn't be which countries are receiving foreign aid, but which kind of projects receive it and how effective that aid is being utilised. Surely we all have a responsibility to help those in need, and this aid can actually be viewed as helping us in the long run, as it is not to our benefit to have countries that are unable to participate in the world market.
I agree that we can't really pick and choose who to help and who to ignore. Bangladesh might seem insignificant in terms of American foreign affairs, but no country is truly insignificant. In our global economy, we all need each other. Helping Bangladesh will eventually help the US and other countries as well. America tends to market itself as a humanitarian country. If we offer any aid, we must offer it to anyone in need regardless of how they will help us.
I don't think Americans should pick and choose who we send aid to based on the importance of the country. If we are going to decide one country should not get aid, we should not send any aid anywhere. If we require reciprocity to give aid, that's one thing.
Perhaps we shouldn't. The government's job is to spend the taxpayers' money in ways that best allow our society to function, not to save the world. If private citizens of the United States feel that they would like to provide financial support to the people of Bangladesh, than that is their prerogative and money can be collected that way. The government, though, should perhaps not be allowed to spend tax dollars on foreign aid.
The argument would be that spending this money buys a certain amount of goodwill, or advances our nation's interests abroad, but those claims are questionable. Unless the government intends to distribute funds indefinitely, at some point it will cut them off; what happens to the goodwill previously earned when people have come to depend on our help for survival at that point?
It seems important than any aid offered to Bangladesh (or to any other country) be truly effective. Often foreign aid winds up in the hands of corrupt local politicians and never gets to the people who actually need it and might benefit from it. Ideally, aid should help people in Bangladesh and other places reach points at which further aid is unnecessary -- when their own economies are growing in ways that make them truly independent. Whatever aid was given in the past to Taiwan and South Korea, for example, seems to have been a wise investment. By aiding such countries, we have strengthened two solid democracies. The same was true of aid given to Western European countries in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
I would hope that we would never become so insensitive to the plight of other human beings as to automatically discount any particular country for foreign aid without giving consideration to the needs and circumstances involved. As noted above, Bangladesh represents a major religious group with which the United States needs to work at building a more positive relationship, and it could become a major market for US exports.
We spend very little of our overall budget (less than 1%) on foreign aid, and that number is going to be cut further still this year amidst the economic troubles and budgetary debt crisis. Bangladesh receives a much smaller fraction of that foreign aid, only $172 million in 2009, for example. We spent nearly 4000 times more than that on US National Defense and 1100 times more on interest for our national debt. So such aid, while it can do much for poverty-stricken Bangladesh, truly has little to no impact on American pocketbooks or national debt load.
Another way to look at it is that, by comparison, we are a very wealthy country, even in bad economic times, and for us to shell out small amounts of aid to the developing world is simply the right thing to do in a humanitarian sense. To put it another way, we should use a small fraction of tax dollars helping countries like Bangladesh...because we can.
Until such time as Congress votes to cut foreign aid entirely, there is no point in trying to pick and choose which countries get it. Rather, we should be concerned with making sure that countries receiving foreign aid spend it properly. At the moment, the vast majority of aid given around the world vanishes into corrupt pockets, with only a small amount actually arriving at their intended projects.
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To an American, Bangladesh might not seem all that important and it might not seem like we should give foreign aid to such a country. However, you can argue for aiding Bangladesh on a number of grounds. Two examples:
- It's a Muslim country and we really need to have better relations with more Muslim countries.
- Aid to a country with such a large population can help the whole world. If Bangladesh's economy could modernize and grow, it would add to overall economic growth in the world as a whole.