Public opinion on United States foreign aid varies widely depending on who is being asked. However, one domestic opinion on the matter is clear: we spend too much on foreign aid. In a 2013 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans wanted to either maintain or increase spending for almost all US government initiatives. Foreign aid was the only exception. Facing a national debt of more than sixteen trillions while news of humanitarian initiatives in foreign nations proliferate, it is not surprising that so many Americans believe the US should be cutting back on foreign aid. However, much of this sentiment is based on an ongoing misconception — the majority of Americans believes the US government spends 28 percent of its federal budget on foreign aid. In reality, foreign aid accounts for only 0.7 percent. Military aid, which is accounted for separately, makes up another 0.5 percent.
Since the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) crisis erupted in Yemen, the country has suddenly been thrown into the international spotlight. While numerous think tanks and experts have been warning for years of the critical challenges that Yemen faced (the southern secession movement, the Houthi rebellion, AQAP) most governments only really started to take note after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab set his pants on fire and tried to bring down Northwest Airlines flight 253 in what was dubbed the “Christmas Day plot” in 2009.
The international attention given to Yemen has, not surprisingly, since then focused on the terrorism threat. In President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s calculations AQAP was long seen as a nuisance, not as a substantial threat to his presidency or the unity of the country. The southern secession movement and the Houthi rebellion in the North were perceived as far more dangerous and potentially consequential, particularly for President Saleh.
After the attack on USS Cole in 2000 and again after the incident involving Umar Abdulmutallab the US has made it abundantly clear that it expects President Saleh to reign in AQAP. Development aid flows as well as military assistance have been closely tied to Yemen’s cooperation with regards to fighting al-Qaida.
US aid flows have been varying greatly in the last decade, depending on the current threat perception. In 2000 Yemen got a relatively meager $400,000 in food aid from the US. In 2001, after the attack on the USS Cole, the US administration deliberated an aid and loan forgiveness package of around $400 million. In 2006, when the terrorism threat was thought to be over, the US cut aid again to $18.7 million. Since then US aid to Yemen has steadily increased every year, reaching $58.4 million in 2010. This is a threefold increase in only four years. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) the administration has requested a staggering $106.6 million for 2011.