From an interview with Gregory Gottlieb, former acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance:
President Donald Trump has made it clear that foreign aid is not a top priority for his administration. His 2018 budget proposal includes steep cuts to the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations. That policy change could have lasting impact on humanitarian efforts worldwide.
The United States has really helped to build the international system of humanitarian relief. We have been the biggest giver, the donor of last resort in many respects. And if you want to change that, you don’t do it by saying we’re going to cut our budget by 40 percent overnight. That is just going to damage the system. Right now, we—all donors—meet only about 62 percent of what we think humanitarian needs are. You can’t just cut our budget and hope that other nations step in to make up the difference.
“Soft power” like humanitarian aid can be very beneficial and serve as a tool for political advantages. After the tsunami in Asia in 2004, the fact that we supplied humanitarian assistance allowed our military to collaborate with Indonesia’s military. That kind of broke the ice and improved relations between our countries. If you looked at how people there viewed the United States, our ratings went way up. The same in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake—the military did a fantastic job of delivering things, despite what was going on in Afghanistan. Some of the people who did that work are still incredibly well thought of. In South Sudan, our humanitarian assistance opened up a better dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan as they were forced to negotiate about how to move food across the lines.