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23/02/2018 | Global Pairings, Rethinking America - Trump’s Budget Priorities: Crimes Against Humanity?

Frank Vogl

President Trump’s proposed budget highlights the increasing White House determination to find military solutions to the world’s ills.


U.S. President Trump’s new budget proposes a dramatic cut in spending on diplomacy and economic assistance, while advocating further major boosts to defense outlays.

The numbers: The White House proposes a 30% cut ($8.9 billion) to take total spending for the U.S. State Department, U.S. Aid and Treasury international programs to $29.8 billion. The budget plan sees a gain of 14% ($73.9 billion) in Defense Department outlays to total $597.1 billion.

The plans highlight the increasing White House determination to find military solutions to the world’s ills. President Trump’s willful neglect of the vast humanitarian crises that now abound – the worst since World War Two – is a crime against humanity.

These crises have been building for years. To be fair, this isn’t just about Trump. There has been insufficient leadership by the U.S. Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations as well.

They, too, failed to address the causes, prevent the disasters and build sufficiently powerful international responses to what can only be described as man-made horror stories. To be sure, much good was also achieved by these presidents in the field of development.

Values hurled aside

Now, under the leadership of President Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the values-driven international leadership of the United States has been hurled aside. And their timing is criminal.

Consider, for example, the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladeshi camps, the Syrians in camps in Jordan, the thousands of people from sub-Saharan Africa who take staggering personal risks to try and find refuge in Western Europe and the gathering nightmares faced by the citizens of oil-rich Venezuela.

The United States under Trump washes its hands from the need to help in any of those urgent crises. Such is the ultimate consequence of Trump’s irrepressible need to see the United States as a victim on the global stage.

More generally, consider, for example:

• According to CARE: “An unprecedented 81 million people are in need of emergency assistance food assistance,” and that the United Nations has declared the world hunger emergency “the gravest since World War Two.”

• According to the World Food Program: “Some 20 million face catastrophe in Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen.”

• According to UNHCR: “We are now witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.”

• According to Human Rights First, quoting data from the International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation: “An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor.”

Abandoning the United Nations

The U.S. has long seen the United Nations as playing important roles in explicitly addressing humanitarian crises – no longer.

The budget cuts now proposed by the Trump administration, range for example from 20% for UN Peacekeeping; to 50% for the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization; and, to 100% for several leading agencies dealing with economic development assistance, women’s rights issues and the environment.

We have the science to prevent most of the starvation and health epidemics. But at a time when entrepreneur Elon Musk is sending commercial rockets into space and talking about shuttling tourists between earth and Mars, the U.S. administration is sharply reducing basic support that could save lives.

Encouraging authoritarianism

Worse still, the Administration is encouraging some of the kleptocratic authoritarian leaders who are most responsible for the unfolding disasters. Many of the man-made crimes against humanity are the product of extreme violence and grand corruption – corruption, which according to the International Monetary Fund now reduces annual global GDP by between 1.5% and 2.0%.

For years, the United States provided aid, for example, to the corrupt regimes in Egypt and Pakistan that stole the cash – this continues. President Sisi has ruthlessly crushed civil society and imprisoned scores of journalists, but the United States turns a blind eye.

Secretary of State Tillerson is on a Middle East tour where his sole agenda is to support militarism. He started in Egypt, where. The New York Times headlined the event: “Visiting Egypt, Tillerson Is Silent on Its Wave of Repression.”

The United States has spent around $120 billion of reconstruction aid in Afghanistan and its troops have been engaged there for over 16 years. The Pentagon is now preparing to increase the number of U.S. soldiers to be deployed.

The level of corruption, the scale of daily violence and the enormous unemployment in Afghanistan today is powerful evidence of just how misguided U.S. policies, which are hugely based on military approaches, have been and continue to be. The White House is in no mood to learn the lessons of this adventure.

From promoting democracy to America First

From the ashes of World War Two, and the strident spread of Communism, the United States sought to create order in a world of disorder. It pledged to promote freedom and democracy and human rights as the means to provide hope and opportunity to all peoples.

The United States led brilliantly, from the forging of the United Nations, to the implementation of the Marshall Plan, in an endeavor to make this a peaceful and prosperous world.

Now, President Trump is telling the world that those values are irrelevant to the goal of putting the United States first. The result will be that the statistics highlighted above will become even larger in the course of this year and in 2019.

The combination of rising human trafficking, mounting millions of refugees and vast grand corruption, is the single greatest threat to international security. It is a threat that cannot be contained by the American military, irrespective of its size and sophistication.

Late this year, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights. It will be an event, probably ignored by the White House, that will not be joyous. Today, as the World Food Program reports: “In South Sudan alone, one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished.”

Their deaths could be avoided.

**Frank Vogl is president of Vogl Communications, Inc., in Washington D.C. and publisher of Vogl Communications works with leading financial services firms and economic development institutions.

Mr. Vogl is also the co-founder of Transparency International (and currently an adviser to its managing director) and is a co-founder and member of the Board of Directors of the Partnership for Transparency Fund and a Trustee of the Committee for Economic Development.

He serves as a member of the International Council of the New Israel Fund and of the Advisory Council of the United Nations Association of the Greater Washington Area. A former spokesman for the World Bank, Mr. Vogl was previously the international economics correspondent for the Times of London.

He is the author of many articles and books, and lectures extensively on global ethics and corruption.

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