No More IMF Subsidies for Dictators

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By John KennedyMarch 22, 2022 6:20 pm ETWSJ 

Treasury Janet Yellen listens as President Biden speaks to reporters at a cabinet meeting at White House, March 3. U.S. European Command warned a year ago that a crisis could be imminent in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin had set up more than 100,000 members of his military to breathe down Ukraine’s neck—the biggest mobilization since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. As Mr. Putin prepared to invade a sovereign democracy, the Biden administration continued pushing for more than $17 billion in International Monetary Fund allocations for Moscow.

President Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen ultimately got what they wanted in August, when the IMF doled out more money in one general allocation than ever before. The $650 billion outlay of IMF IOUs backed by the U.S. Treasury—called special drawing rights—sent money to Moscow while the world watched Mr. Biden abandon Bagram Air Base to the Taliban. Iran gained access to about $4.5 billion through the IMF deal, and China had a windfall of $40 billion.

In this case, there were no sanctions to evade because the Biden administration simply handed Vladimir Putin, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Xi Jinping the money. The IMF special drawing rights function as subsidies, since countries awarded these tokens can exchange them for hard currency like dollars and euros on demand without having to repay the principal. Immediately after the White House finalized these subsidies, Russia’s foreign reserves hit a new high.

To further put that $17 billion in perspective, Mr. Biden asked Congress for only $10 billion in Ukraine aid after Russia’s violent invasion began leading every newscast.

The White House’s most egregious move may be yet to come. The Biden administration purposefully structured the 2021 allocation as a down payment on another flood of special drawing rights this year, totaling $350 billion. Some Democrats asked Ms. Yellen in November to back a tranche of about $2 trillion. In either case, Treasury would again lay tens of billions of dollars at the feet of dictators and terror states. But more free money won’t beget better behavior.

As the new axis of evil grew richer last fall, it grew markedly more belligerent. Russia invaded Ukraine, Iran became more incorrigible in its nuclear-deal demands, and China signaled recently it believes its claim to Taiwan is even stronger than Russia thinks it has to Ukraine.Mr. Biden and Ms. Yellen can’t say they weren’t warned. I started imploring Ms. Yellen not to subsidize our enemies in the name of Covid relief last March, as did the Journal’s editorial board.

The Biden administration also can’t claim it was forced into the deal by the IMF, given that the U.S. has the largest voting share in the fund. The allocation that lined the pockets of Messrs. Putin and Xi had to have U.S. approval because the world’s largest economy can veto major IMF decisions.

Treasury can’t claim it had no other options. The IMF could have avoided spending the bulk of the $650 billion general allocation on dictators and countries that didn’t need the aid by making the special allocation for the poorest nations. Again, these pages pointed out that Mr. Biden’s objection to a tailored approach was that it would require him to submit to Congress—which he seems generally reluctant to do.

The White House’s eyes were wide open, and its hands weren’t tied. Team Biden knew Mr. Putin was mobilizing against Ukraine and greenlit $17 billion for Russia anyway, while slowing military aid for Ukraine.

China and Iran have been taking notes at every turn. Mr. Biden’s end-run around Congress left rogue leaders emboldened and enriched. His task now is to get America out of Iran-deal negotiations, force Russia out of Ukraine, and keep China out of Taiwan.

He needs to demonstrate resolve. He can start by disavowing future IMF allocations that would pour money into Russia, China, Iran and their like. Let’s shut off the IMF spigot to communists and terrorists and make sure it stays shut.