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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Does Egypt’s Revolution Teach us Anything About Foreign Policy?

Let us hope that the Egyptian Revolution puts us all on a path to better governing and governance!  Let us hope -- no, let us resolve -- that their victory for human rights can be our victory as well.   We Americans, from the perspective of  a very young (representative) democracy, must be willing to have an ancient civilization teach us something vital: that the very basic yearning for freedom, liberty and justice is not limited to a small group of people, but exists everywhere, in all peoples.  It is not our right, nor our responsibility, to “spread democracy”.  It is, rather, our responsibility to support the yearnings, the dreams, the aspirations of others toward democratic ideals that should guide our foreign relations and our foreign aid.

Egypt may have taught us some other very important lessons.  One, that human contact and relationships are vital to our relations with other groups.  It can probably never be determined or revealed how important was the contact between our military personnel and their counterparts in Egypt.  That contact was built on mutual ties of education, trust, goodwill, and common ground that were forged in our military schools.  We need to use the idea of common ground to forge more such relationships with other countries through education and training around common goals; and not just in the military.   The support of education and training in other cultures, the support of mutual education and training within this country; the support of person-to-person mutual learning and teaching - as through the PEACE CORPS -- is absolutely vital to our national interest and to the aspirations of others in other countries. 

Second, the propping-up of military and other kinds of dictatorships, is not a good way to use our taxpayer dollars.  The billions that Hosni Mubarak and his family accumulated for themselves out of our foreign aid, and what it could buy for them, is ludicrous.  More specifically, the use of foreign aid to dictators for the express purpose of buying our armaments and weapons for their own use is a travesty.  We are the leading purveyor of arms to other countries.  That must stop because we cannot “buy” the allegiance or the loyalty of dictatorships and expect that it will serve us in the long run.  It will, instead, put us in the bind in which the Obama Administration found itself ; namely, when a dictator is challenged by his or her own people, we have grave difficulty deciding who to support: the people, or the dictator who has served our bought interests for a number of years.  We must free ourselves from that conundrum, and change our approach to supporting dictators, once and for all.  Oh yes, and just so we don’t forget:  the American arms bought by dictators, and given to dictators, have ended up helping to oppress their people, especially when the people decide they have had enough and then rebel.  “Order” is then the key word, and order is restored by repressing the people with the tanks and guns and who knows what (tear gas canisters!) that we Americans supplied through foreign aid.

Third, this Egyptian Revolution may not succeed.  And why not?  Because there is no recognized leader amongst the people ready to lead.  Because there is a “culture” of bribery for getting things done simply because people need to enhance their dismal pay with bribes.  Because there is a forced absence of democratic institutions and practice (like a free press), of voluntarism and organizing, of alliances and coalitions -- all focused on helping neighbors; on the well-being of the community; on the rights of each and of all.  You can’t have a democracy - or democratic practices - without the attitudes and ideals that support that way of thinking and acting. 

Our foreign aid must be attuned to those needs, and must find a way to encourage people in all lands toward a democratic mind-set and a democratic approach to solving and resolving problems; indeed, a way of living.  How do we do that?  I don’t know exactly.  I can only say it has something to do with the principles of community organizing: the very strategies that have been so denigrated and attacked (remember ACORN?)  by a certain group in this country.  It is a tragedy that we ourselves have allowed the rights and aspirations of the poor, the homeless, the poorly trained and educated, even of children and the elderly, to be restricted, held down, trod upon and unfunded.  What are some of those community organization principles and programs?  Advocacy for oneself and for each other; formation of coalitions and grassroots organizations; community linkages (networking); voter training; job training; child-care provision and early intervention and education; in-home parent support and training; access to legal aid;  nutrition and adequate meals; mutual aid; home maintenance -- it goes on and on because there is always something more that one can do for oneself and for/with the community.

Let us come back to foreign aid.  Ron Paul may be right in some respects about foreign aid: it does deserve our criticism, but not our abandonment!  After all, abandonment of foreign aid would be an undue restriction placed on the constitutional powers granted to the President of the United States to conduct foreign policy: to make Treaties, to appoint ambassadors, to receive ambassadors and other public Ministers.  And taking away that executive power would only serve to enhance the power of Congress in the realm of foreign policy:  and we don’t need a contentious Congress trying to decide by Committee deliberation, where, and for what reason, to place a particular piece of foreign aid.

With this small detour, we shall look next time at some principles and practices that might guide our foreign aid.