Coronavirus relief package includes an overseas spending spree

By: Rachel Marsden

While many Americans were struggling to put gifts under the tree at the end of a year filled with COVID-19 restrictions and economic loss, President Donald Trump and Congress were busy haggling over whether Americans should be getting a government handout of either $600 or $2,000 via new legislation. Meanwhile, the same piece of legislation included an overseas spending spree that didn’t receive anywhere near the same amount of scrutiny.

Washington wrings its hands over the amount of tax dollars that should be put back into the pockets of Americans to help mitigate the economic impact of the global pandemic, yet it has the audacity to ram through millions of dollars to fund regime-change efforts in foreign countries, laundered through United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED) programs.

During the Cold War years, NED, created in 1983, funneled cash to anti-communist causes overseas under the pretext of democracy-building. When attention turned to Middle East regime-change wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on America by primarily Saudi Arabian citizens, NED remained an important conduit to fund Washington’s objectives.

USAID, created in 1961, has long served as a front for secretive operations overseas. As Peter Kornbluh wrote in a 2014 New York Times op-ed piece: “There is a world of difference between American foreign assistance programs that openly support democratic development, human rights and socioeconomic progress, and the type of clandestine operations aimed at regime change that United States Agency for International Development has been running under the guise of a ‘democracy’ promotion program in Cuba.”

USAID is mentioned 58 times in the coronavirus relief bill, notably as an administrator of funds for “democracy programs.” NED is allocated $300 million, with $104.2 million earmarked for “democracy programs,” plus $195.8 million that “shall be allocated in the traditional and customary manner, including for the core institutes,” which have previously been associated with regime-change activities.

While you’re worried about how you might stretch a check from the government that will barely cover the month’s rent or the mortgage payment, the coronavirus relief bill also stipulates that “not less than $33,000,000 shall be made available for democracy programs for Venezuela.” So far in Venezuela, the U.S. government has bought itself a self-proclaimed interim president, Juan Guaido, who lost his seat as head of parliament a few weeks ago in the Venezuelan legislative elections, during which actual Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro consolidated power by winning control over the legislative assembly — the only government entity that had remained outside of his authority.

The bill also provides that “not less than $461,375,000 shall be made available for assistance for Colombia” — a narcotrafficking haven that the U.S. doesn’t seem too interested in doing much about since it’s an ally that can be leveraged against neighboring Venezuela. One Latin America expert recently told me that the capital of Juan Guaido’s shadow government is Bogota, Colombia.

Democracy and internet freedom programs for Hong Kong also receive $3 million in new funding, and $300 million is devoted to a “Countering Chinese Influence Fund” — all of which will do little to dispel China’s accusations of foreign interference in its domestic affairs, notably via CIA cutouts. A year ago, during the Hong Kong protests against the Chinese government, China sanctioned NED for “strongly instigat[ing] extremely violent criminal activities.”

Israel isn’t suffering quite the same financial worries as the average American during these times of pandemic woes. Not only is the U.S. spending tax dollars on its own military activities, but the coronavirus relief bill also stipulates that “not less than $3,300,000,000 shall be available for grants only for Israel which shall be disbursed within 30 days of enactment of this Act.”

The bill also dedicates a great deal of money to the containment of Russia, with $453 million allocated to Ukraine and $290 million “to carry out the purposes of the Countering Russian Influence Fund.” Russian neighbor and U.S. ally Georgia also gets $132 million in assistance.

The “Counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Train and Equip Fund” gets $710 million just a few years after the Pentagon blew $500 million on a program to train Syrian rebels, some of whom ended up defecting to ISIS. Perhaps next year, Congress can fund yet another program to neutralize the rebels that it funded this year.

While Americans await their government stimulus check, they might wonder why the government can’t ever seem to extricate itself from overseas fiascos and endless foreign conflicts. Even the legislation to deliver COVID-19 relief provides insight as to why that’s the case.