The effectiveness of foreign aid is heavily debated in international relations. Most often, critiques emphasize that aid driven by the geopolitical agenda of the donor country only strengthens the grip of the incumbent over the state. Anne Mariel Zimmerman does not contest this view; on the contrary, her work’s main theme revolves around the question, “what has U.S. assistance “bought” in the Middle East?” (p. 2). Zimmerman focuses on the principal-agent relationship between donors and recipients and points out how recipient states have the ability to use geopolitical aid based on their survival strategy. Zimmerman’s main argument is that the effectiveness of foreign aid is directly related to the incumbent’s survival strategy, that this strategy is largely shaped by the domestic politics of the recipient state, and that the historical background of the recipient country provides essential information about the historical structures of its domestic politics. Zimmerman identifies three survival strategies for incumbents: non-distributive, distributive and hybrid. In the cases of non-distributive strategy, recipient states use the aid money for developing state capacity. In cases of distributive strategy, incumbents use the aid money to provide benefits to their power base, and often make concessions on their sovereignty. States that adopt a hybrid strategy combine the non-distributive and distributive strategy: on the one hand the incumbent provides subsidies and other benefits to its power base; on the other, it develops a small cadre of professional institutions that implement limited reforms. In both cases, donor states establish parallel institutions to provide public goods to the recipient states’ populations.
Zimmerman provides essential information about Israel, Jordan and Egypt and their relationship with the United States by incorporating historical background to her analysis and by emphasizing the complexity of the relationship be