Trump Has Turned Foreign Aid into Shabby Political Theatre


Peter Beaumont - The Guardian

Stalled relief supplies for Venezuela at the Colombian border are a stark illustration of Trump’s crudely transactional approach to aid.

20 Feb 2019 – In their grey livery, the US Air Force C-17s shuttling into Camilo Daza airport in Cúcuta, Colombia, look more belligerent than friendly – which is, perhaps, the point.

In the city itself, the planes’ cargo – boxes labelled USAid and intended for distribution by the Venezuelan opposition just across the border – are accumulating in the town’s warehouses.

It is an optic that matters because on the edge of a genuine humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela, the Trump administration appears to be creating the illusion of a secondary crisis.

With its air force flights, accumulation of stalled aid in the standoff with the regime of Nicolás Maduro, who is refusing to allow the aid across the border, it is a piece of highly politicised theatre with its cut-price echoes of the Berlin airlift of 1948-9 when the Soviet Union blocked transport links for supplies to Allied-controlled sectors of the city.

It is a stark illustration (if one were needed) of how the US does aid in the Trump era, a period characterised by a transactional world view and a foreign policy that seems often more in service of the US president’s personal standing than America’s position as a global player.

While US aid policy has been politicised since the post-war Marshall Plan, no US president has been so obvious and crude as Trump in their approach to using assistance for global leverage.

If the Trump administration’s method can actually be called doctrine – as opposed to a series of attention-seeking and ego-driven impulses – it has revealed itself in the past two years to be unconcerned with much pretence of generally accepted humanitarian principles, instead often favouring gesture politics even at the expense of wider US foreign policy interests.

From the very beginning Trump has defined US development aid as entirely transactional, reiterating in the UN general assembly last year: “The United States is the world’s largest giver in the world, by far, of foreign aid. But few give anything to us.”

If Trump’s approach is jarring it is because historically presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have recognised the importance of US assistance.

Arguing for establishment of USAid in 1961, it was president John F Kennedy who proposed the formula that it should not simply be driven by moral considerations but by recognition that “our [US] security would be endangered and our prosperity imperilled” by continued widespread poverty and instability.

And the high point of US aid giving in the decades after the Marshall Plan – at some 0.6% of GDP – would come not under a Democrat but during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who would echo Kennedy in stating “the ultimate importance to the United States of our security and development assistance programs cannot be exaggerated”.

And while Trump has often threatened more than he has delivered in many other arenas, on the issue of US assistance he has a record of following through on his threats, not least against the Palestinians where he has slowed crucial aid to a trickle to force the Palestinian leadership to come to the negotiating table on his much-vaunted Middle East peace plan.

That is not to say that the Trump approach to foreign assistance has not seen push-back. He was forced to retreat last year from reported plans to bypass Congress and roll back billions of dollars from the US foreign aid budget.

All of this casts a harsh spotlight on the real meaning of the current accumulation of aid on Venezuela’s Colombian border.

The reality is that the US flights into Cúcuta represent more than what Nathanial Myers, in a 2015 paper for the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, dubbed as a worrying and short term-ist trend towards “hard aid”. He argued that it threatened to undermine “the traditional developmental mission increasingly recognised as central to future American security”.

Rather, the flights look something more shabby: a dangerous stunt utilising aid for other purposes, alluded to by UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, who told reporters in New York last week: “Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or any other objectives.”

As a New York Times leader suggested earlier this week: “Trump is only incidentally speaking out in support of the downtrodden. His chief motivation appears to be to rally his far-right base by proclaiming himself a warrior against ‘socialism’ – an evil he identifies not only with the radical policies of Hugo Chávez, Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, but also in the platforms of some Democratic presidential hopefuls.”

As US assistance in the Trump era barrels towards an ever darker place, its tools seem daily more authoritarian than democratic.


Peter Beaumont

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2 Responses to “Trump Has Turned Foreign Aid into Shabby Political Theatre”

  1. rosemerry says:

    Please do NOT pretend this is “aid”.
    1. the amount is negligible compared with the years of sanctions by the USA and the stealing of billions of dollars of Venezuela’s money.
    2. People are NOT starving -the government -funded basic food supplies continues as it did under Chavez
    3. Needed imports are decided by the elected government- much has been accepted.
    4. The Red Cross has warned the government NOT to accept the “aid” which is “highly likely” to contain weapons for the illegal “interim president”.

  2. Satoshi Ashikaga says:


    – What are Humanitarian Principles?:

    – “U.S. foreign assistance has always had the twofold purpose of furthering America’s interests while improving lives in the developing world.”  USAID website: ( )

    – Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy Tool

    – Effective Tools for Achieving Foreign Policy Goals

    –  Development Assistance–A Tool of Foreign Policy

    – How US Foreign Aid is Used in Foreign Policy  



    What the Trump administration is doing to Venezuela reminds me of the Golden Rule:  “The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one’s self would wish to be treated. It is a maxim that is found in many religions and cultures…The idea dates at least to the early Confucian times (551–479 BC) according to Rushworth Kidder, who identifies that this concept appears prominently in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and “the rest of the world’s major religions”.” (


    Nicolás Maduro was elected as the President of Venezuela by Venezuelan voters even though some irregularities were discovered in the election.  Should the United States judge the result of Maduro’s election legitimate or not?

    Trump was elected as the President of the United States by American voters even though some irregularities were discovered in the election.  Should Venezuela judge the result of his election legitimate or not?


    Some Venezuelans say that Maduro is a dictator.

    Some Americans say that Trump is a dictator. See, for instance: “Kimmel: Trump ‘is a dictator’ and here’s the proof”:   and   “Trump is a dictator and we need to force him out of office: Robert Reich”:


    Juan Guaidó was not elected as the President of Venezuela by Venezuelan voters. However, when he declared himself as the President of Venezuela, the United States and some other countries recognized him as the President of Venezuela. 

    Hillary Clinton was not elected as the President of the United States by American voters. However, if she declared herself as the President of the United States, and if Venezuela and some other countries recognized her as the President of the United States, what then?


    The United States sent a great amount of humanitarian assistance materials to the Venezuelan border from Columbia. 

    If Venezuela now sends a great amount of humanitarian assistance materials to the American border from Mexico, what then?


    – GDP per capita (nominal) of Colombia is less than that of Venezuela, according to the U.N. statistics.  See   It was Colombia, to which the United States should have sent the humanitarian assistance materials rather than to Venezuela. 

    – The United States is thinking about the military intervention in Venezuela?   “Trump: U.S. military intervention in Venezuela ‘an option'”:   But think of after that.  “How many homeless veterans are living in the U.S.?”  

    – Now, how about this?   “Poverty in the United States”: (Wikipedia): “Recent census data shows that half the population qualifies as poor or low income, with one in five Millennials living in poverty.” .   

    – The ratio of the average income of the richest 10% to the poorest 10% of the United States is 18.5%, while that of Venezuela is 18.8%.  See  “List of countries by income equality”: .  That is, both countries do not have the big difference, almost the same, in terms of the income inequality.  
    – As such, the question arises:  To whom the U.S. humanitarian assistance should be given, to Venezuelan people or to American people, or to both?