In a week in which the administration put forth a budget slashing domestic spending and foreign aid, Bill Gates, who, with his wife, Melinda, heads the world’s richest foundation, rationally explained why Americans should not shoot themselves in the foot.
In a piece in Time magazine, he began:
Foreign aid is often in the hot seat, but today the heat is cranked up especially high. The United States government, one of the world’s most influential donors, is considering dramatic cuts to health and development programs around the world. I understand why some Americans watch their tax dollars going overseas and wonder why we’re not spending them at home. Here’s my answer: These projects keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.
Recounting U.S. efforts to stem the Ebola outbreak and the AIDS epidemic in Africa, he noted that millions of lives have been saved. However, he argued, “This is not simply a humanitarian accomplishment. For those countries it means more teachers, entrepreneurs, police officers, and health-care workers contributing to strong, stable societies. According to one bipartisan study, political instability and violent activity in African countries with PEPFAR programs dropped 40 percent between 2004 and 2015. Where there was no PEPFAR [President George W. Bush’s anti-AIDS] program, the decline was just 3 percent.”
He shredded the “America First” know-nothingism embraced by President Trump. “A more stable world is good for everyone,” he wrote. “But there are other ways that aid benefits Americans in particular. It strengthens markets for U.S. goods: of our top 15 trade partners, 11 are former aid recipients. It is also visible proof of America’s global leadership. Popular support for the U.S. is high in Africa, where aid has such a dramatic impact. When you help a mother save her child’s life, she never forgets. Withdrawing now would not only cost lives, it would create a leadership vacuum that others would happily fill.”
And he demonstrated a more sophisticated understanding of national security than Trump has ever shown (a low bar, I grant you). “More than 120 retired generals and admirals recently wrote a letter to Congress arguing that U.S. programs ‘are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.’ ” He added, “Secretary of Defense James Mattis famously said, back when he was commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other hotspots: ‘If you don’t fully fund the State Department’ — which runs many of America’s key programs — ‘then I need to buy more ammunition.’ ”
Trump would do well to listen to someone like Gates who knows a great deal about the world — and who is far, far more successful and generous than Trump could ever be. Humanitarians, politicians, military experts, scientists, epidemiologists, economists and other informed people would do well to follow the example set by Gates and begin a ]campaign to educate the public on the benefits and cost-savings of the tiny portion of our budget (less than 1 percent) that goes to foreign aid.
For speaking out and for he and his wife’s foundation’s lifesaving work, we can say well done, Mr. Gates.