When you try to explain to a liberal that instead of helping the poor the welfare state has mostly subsidized poverty, most don’t want to hear it. The very idea that we should change our policies or even reverse course is anathema to those who consider the welfare state an entrenched and unalterable facet of American government. To such ideologues, pointing out the obvious damage wrought by welfare does little to dissuade them from defending it at all costs-quite literally. And so the status quo continues on, generation to generation, dollar to dollar, unexamined, unchallenged and undisturbed.
The same is true of the welfare we give to other countries in the form of foreign aid. If constant financial intervention by our government has created a dependent class domestically, the dollars we dole out to other nations has produced similar dependence. Like public assistance, sometimes the welfare we give to other governments does little to actually promote our interests, and in fact, particularly over time, often hurts those interests.
The current turmoil in Egypt is a primary example of this. Writes The American Conservative‘s Michael Brendan Dougherty: “The fact, rarely mentioned this past week, is that the United States sends over $800 million in direct economic aid to Egypt along with $1.3 billion a year in military aid. The guns being used to beat protestors this week were bought with American tax dollars.” Writing for Commentary, neoconservative Max Boot makes a similar observation: “For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and (Egyptian President) Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops.”
Due to our constant foreign aid and intervention in Egypt’s affairs, Boot adds “We have a large say, whether we want it or not.”
Whether the United States should want to have a “say,” large or small-or at all-in the affairs of other nations is something that has been debated since this country’s inception, from the Founding Fathers warnings against “entangling alliances” to generations of succeeding leaders who argued the necessity of various foreign engagements. Today America’s presence, whether military, political, financial or even ideological, is readily recognized and accepted in so many areas of the world that it is rarely questioned. Just like the fact that we’ve had a welfare state for so long that many can’t fathom an America without it, our well-established warfare state-including the foreign financial and military aid that accompanies it-simply remains part of an unexamined, unchallenged and undisturbed foreign policy permanence.
Given this permanence, what exactly, can or should the US “say” about the unrest in Egypt? Should President Obama support President Mubarak, a dictator our government has supported since his reign began 30 years ago, despite the fact that Egypt’s citizens now rebel against him? Should we endorse the rebellion? Will this even be possible given that many predict a new and perhaps radical Islamic regime might arise? When Egyptians or the leaders of any future administrations of that country express anger at the United States for helping prop up Mubarak, are we going to pretend that these people simply “hate our freedom” or recall our complicity in the matter? Will we remember, as Dougherty points out, that “The guns being used to beat protestors this week were bought with American tax dollars?” What, if anything, can we do to prevent or reduce the further possibility of increasing anti-American sentiment in Egypt?
In retrospect, would America have been better off if we had never become so intimately involved with Egypt’s affairs? Would it not have been preferable for Egypt’s troubles to be little more than a blip on the nightly news as opposed to an international crisis laid at our doorstep?
Yet to argue against such foreign aid and intervention, whether with liberal internationalists on the Left or neoconservative-minded Republicans on the Right, invites accusations of “isolationism” or worse, in much the same way welfare reformers are often accused of hating the poor. To such ideologues, pointing out any obvious damage wrought by our interventionist policies does little to dissuade them from defending such actions at all costs-quite literally. Given the events of the past week, few would likely now take a wholly positive view of America’s policies toward Egypt and Mubarak, yet it’s still hard to imagine our leaders offering any significantly different policies-while still insisting that anyone who dares question the conventional wisdom is naïve or illogical.
Conservatives instinctively understand that government intervention in the form of taxation, regulation and even public assistance, gives rise to all sorts of unintended consequences and affects citizens’ behavior in multiple ways. Yet we should also comprehend that the same is true of government intervention abroad. Egypt’s example proves the danger and shortsightedness of involving ourselves in every international conflict, as that nation’s troubles now become ours-but only to the extent that we’ve made them so.