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Eight Times The Obama Administration Put Conditions On Foreign Aid

Hayden Daniel Associate Editor

The current impeachment inquiry is based on the accusation that President Donald Trump attached the caveat of investigating the business dealings of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, to a proposed aid package to Ukraine during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

This “quid pro quo,” a promise of U.S. aid in exchange for desirable behavior on the part of a country, or the threat of removing aid unless a desirable behavior is adopted, is nothing new in the realm of U.S. foreign policy. Not only has the threat of removing aid been used throughout U.S. history to encourage desirable behavior, but it was also one of the favorite tactics of the Obama administration. Former President Barack Obama used the tactic several times during his tenure to pressure foreign governments into adopting or dropping policies that fit his political agenda.

Here are eight examples:

Israel

In September 2016, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiated the largest U.S. military aid package to Israel in history. As part of the deal, Israel was guaranteed $38 billion in military aid over a decade, but the generous package also came with a few conditions designed to keep Israel dependent on the U.S. for its defense capabilities. In exchange for the aid, Israel had to promise not to seek any additional funds from Congress for the duration of the aid package, and it had to relinquish a special arrangement that allowed Israel to use U.S. aid dollars on developing its own domestic defense industry instead of buying exclusively from America. (RELATED: GOP Rep’s Bill Would Redirect Palestinian Aid To Israel, If State Department Can’t Certify Money Not Going To Terrorists’ Families)

JERUSALEM – AUGUST 18: An Israeli flag flies from the Kidmat Zion Jewish settlement community on the outskirts of the Arab village of Abu Dis, where the Old City with its golden Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine is seen in the background, August 18, 2008 in East Jerusalem, Israel.  (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)

Egypt

The Obama administration temporarily cut off military aid to Egypt after its democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi, who had strong links to the Muslim Brotherhood, was deposed in coup led by current president Abdeh Fattah el-Sisi in 2013.

Obama urged that Morsi’s opponents should use “legal, legitimate” processes to remove him instead of lining up tanks in front of the presidential palace. Though some in Congress, including Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, argued to completely cut off foreign aid to Egypt, Obama declined to fully describe Morsi’s ouster as a coup, and aid was restored soon after Morsi was removed from power and the coup leaders solidified their position.

Pakistan

The U.S withheld $300 million in aid to Pakistan in August 2016 in retaliation for what the U.S. deemed to be an inadequate effort to suppress Taliban-affiliated militants operating out of Pakistan, who were crossing the border into neighboring Afghanistan. The groups operating out of Pakistan were a primary source of concern for the security of Afghanistan, and some U.S. military officials claimed that the terrorist groups had links with Pakistani intelligence.

The aid that was cut off was part of the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) program. Under the program, the U.S. reimbursed Pakistan for its aid in U.S. operations in Afghanistan and supported Pakistan’s operations against militants in its own territory. The U.S. previously withheld $800 million in aid to Pakistan after the raid in 2011 on Pakistani soil that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The billions of dollars that the U.S. has reimbursed Pakistan since 2001 have been critical to the maintenance of the Pakistani armed forces.

Bangladesh

Obama removed trade incentives to Bangladesh in 2013 because of the working conditions for the country’s garment workers. Bangladesh was expelled from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, which was created in 1976 to aid economic development in poor countries and reduce import costs to the U.S.

The GSP aid to Bangladesh was small, only about $2 million in duties was spared on $35 million worth of goods while Bangladesh annually pays $732 million in duties on $4.9 billion in clothing goods, but the cessation of the GSP program would have also caused tax hikes in important Bangladeshi industries like plastics.

The cut in aid was prompted by two deadly incidents in the Bangladeshi garment industry in 2012 and 2013. In November 2012, a fire in a garment factory killed 112 people, and in April 2013 a garment factory collapsed, killing 1,132 people.

Colombia

Obama attached $450 million in aid to Colombia in order to incentivize a peace treaty between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels in 2016. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had been in rebellion against the Colombian government since 1964. Obama also promised $33 million to find land mines strewn across the country and to pressure the international community for more aid if peace was reached.

The U.S. previously supplied over $10 billion in military and economic aid to Colombia from 2000 to 2015. Increased U.S. aid to Colombia was seen as pivotal as a condition for successful peace negotiation after three failed attempts at negotiations and a cut to the Colombian government’s budget of more than 20% after a plunge in oil prices. The peace plan was ratified in November 2016.

Uganda

Obama suggested in February 2014 that Uganda’s aid from the United States would be in jeopardy if the country adopted an anti-homosexual bill. Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, but the new legislation would have increased the penalty for being homosexual to life in prison. Additionally, the bill also made it a crime to not report homosexuals to the authorities. The bill also brought lesbians under the purview of Uganda’s anti-homosexual law for the first time.

While initially hesitant to sign the bill, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced that he intended to sign it. In response, Obama said that passage of the bill would “complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” and a senior official in the administration said that the U.S. would review its aid package to Uganda if the bill passed. The U.S. sent more than $400 million in aid to Uganda in 2014. Though Museveni signed the law in February 2014, the Ugandan Supreme Court ruled it invalid on procedural grounds in August 2014. (RELATED: Trump Administration Looking To Spending Abroad, Rein In ‘Wasteful’ Programs)

Nigeria

The Obama administration threatened to cut off aid to Nigeria if the country passed an anti-homosexual bill in 2011. The bill criminalized same-sex relationships and levied a prison sentence of up to 14 years on those convicted of homosexuality.

Nigerians, who overwhelmingly disapprove of homosexuality, reacted negatively to Obama’s threat. One Nigerian lawmaker said, “We have a culture. We have religious beliefs and we have a tradition. We are black people. We are not white, and so the U.S cannot impose its culture on us. Same sex marriage is alien to our culture and we can never give it a chance. So if [Western nations] withhold their aid to us, to hell with them.”

The anti-homosexual bill was delayed in the Nigerian Congress until 2014 when President Goodluck Jonathan signed it into law.

Ukraine

The Obama-era “quid pro quo” that has had the greatest impact on Trump’s presidency is the threat from Joe Biden to withhold a $1 billion loan to Ukraine in exchange for the ouster of a prosecutor Biden accused of corruption. Joe Biden even bragged about the “quid pro quo” at an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations in January 2018:

I remember going over (to Ukraine), convincing our team … that we should be providing for loan guarantees. … And I was supposed to announce that there was another billion-dollar loan guarantee. And I had gotten a commitment from (then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko) and from (then-Prime Minister Arseniy) Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor (Shokin). And they didn’t. …

They were walking out to a press conference. I said, nah, … we’re not going to give you the billion dollars. They said, ‘You have no authority. You’re not the president.’ … I said, call him. I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars. I said, you’re not getting the billion. … I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a bitch. He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.

CHERVONOE, UKRAINE – FEBRUARY 26: Pro-Russian rebels allegedly move tanks and heavy weaponry away from the front line of fighting in accordance with the Minsk II agreement on February 26, 2015 in Chervonoe, Ukraine. The Minsk ll agreement, created on February 11, 2015, was designed by Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany to alleviate fighting in the Donbass region of Ukraine. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Trump and his allies claim that the prosecutor’s firing was demanded in order to protect Hunter Biden and his business dealings in Ukraine from the prying eyes of the prosecutor who was investigating corruption. Biden claims that he pressured President Poroshenko to get rid of the prosecutor because he did not pursue corruption cases hard enough. (RELATED: Trump Takes Swipe At Obama Administration Over Sending Aid To Ukraine)

A version of trading U.S. aid for good behavior is even enshrined in U.S. law. Leahy Laws have been in effect since as early as 1997 and have been a part of the Foreign Assistance Act since 2008. Under the Leahy Laws, The Department of State and the Department of Defense are prohibited form providing military aid to foreign military forces that have a record of violating human rights. The U.S. does not publicly reveal which foreign military units it has cut off from aid under the Leahy Laws.