Trump aides mull new foreign aid logo for the ‘America First’ era

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USAID

Some former aid experts say a rebrand for U.S overseas assistance is a good idea but warn the impact could be negative if not managed properly. | John Moore/Getty Images

White House

Proponents envision a logo with the U.S. flag as its ‘singular focus’ that every U.S. agency and department would use.

U.S. foreign aid could soon get an “America First” makeover.

Top White House officials are discussing creation of a single new logo to slap on all U.S. overseas assistance, arguing that it’s time for a rebranding effort that will ultimately help promote President Donald Trump’s self-described nationalist ideology.

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It’s not clear where Trump himself stands on the proposal, contained in a draft executive order and other materials obtained by POLITICO. The idea, which is only in its nascent stages, comes amid the president’s decision to back away from plans to cut billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid.

While Trump is famous for his love of slapping his name on any item — from luxury towers to steaks — the new proposal does not envision emblazoning the president’s name on U.S. assistance overseas. Its proponents, led by senior White House National Security Council staffers, instead envision a future logo that features the U.S. flag as its “singular focus” and which every U.S. agency and department would use.

Officials note that, as things stand, more than 20 U.S. government bodies are involved in disbursing foreign aid, and that each uses its own branding, some of which doesn’t even name the United States. They argue such incoherent marketing diminishes U.S. influence abroad amid rising competition from China.

“The United States needs to restructure the current approach to represent the generosity of the American people as a whole rather than promoting the public recognition of the work of individual federal agencies,” reads a note attached to the draft executive order.

The suggested outline for the design, however, does include the logos of U.S. agencies and departments, though it places them in a position subordinate to the flag.

The abundance of different logos frustrated people in the Obama administration, as well. But efforts to take a more standardized approach — including using a logo with a U.S. flag — fizzled, according to two Obama-era aides.

The White House declined a request for comment.

According to the draft executive order, the NSC staff would be in charge of overseeing the creation of the logo. So far, there’s been no formal consultation on the idea between the White House and other U.S. agencies and departments, according to an administration official.

Current and former U.S. officials from other agencies, as well as aid experts contacted by POLITICO, said they were unaware of the new proposal, but several said it’s a good idea. All warned, however, that the details would matter. The impact could be negative, they warned, if the project is not properly managed.

For one thing, some said they would worry about Trump aides demanding that the new logo be used in all places where U.S. aid is distributed, even spots rife with anti-American sentiment.

“There are places and contexts where openly branding aid as from the United States causes potential security problems both for the recipients and the aid providers,” said Joel Charny, executive director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA.

He added that while using a single logo could help send a more consistent message, the discussion skirts over a broader problem with aid disbursement.

“We’d all benefit from greater coordination and less infighting among the U.S. government aid providers,” he said.

The Trump administration’s has had a complicated relationship with the concept of foreign aid.

Some of Trump’s fiscally hawkish advisers have pushed him to slash billions from the funds meant to help struggling people abroad. Other Trump aides have pushed back, saying he can use the money in ways that promote his “America First” philosophy by helping spur pro-U.S. sentiment abroad. The administration also has been accused of inappropriately politicizing humanitarian aid.

Just this week, Trump killed a plan to freeze more than $4 billion in foreign aid after Republicans and Democrats argued against it for a variety of reasons.

But the White House is still looking at ways to change how the U.S. distributes aid, possibly by refusing to send dollars to governments that do not support America in forums such as the United Nations.

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