U.S. foreign aid last year topped $54 billion. So, who gets that money and how much do they get?
In researching that question, we made an astonishing discovery:
In fiscal year 2010, the United States gave Russia $505 million in foreign aid. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Census). In looking a little deeper, we discovered the U.S. has given Russia foreign aid every year since at least 2000. (That was as far back as the spreadsheet we saw went.)
At first we thought we were seeing things - the country that blocks every effort the U.S. makes to stop nuclear proliferation or bring peace to warring nations (like Syria) is actually getting foreign aid from us?
And what is even more astonishing is that not all of it is economic, some of it is military.
For the last year that we could find a breakdown - 2008 - of the total $479 million we gave to Russia that year, $396 million was economic aid, and $83 million was military aid. Why the devil are we giving the Russians military aid?
We have always thought the major purposes for foreign aid were to help developing countries (like most of Africa), war-torn countries (i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan) or at-risk countries (Israel). Somehow established countries didn't seem to belong on that list.
Certainly, if they do belong on the list, it is a selective one. For example, in the first decade of the 21st century, Russia received significant amounts every year (sometimes more than $1 billion). Yet developed countries who are our allies were notably stiffed. Germany and France, for example, received around $2 million each - for the entire decade.
We have lately wondered how a country running yearly $1 trillion deficits could afford to be giving anyone else money. Now we are not only concerned that the money is being given, but that those deciding who gets it have no idea what they are doing.
It is a foolish, dual-edged sword - we are broke, but still giving money to people who don't like us.
(Note: A version of this editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News)
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.