Wednesday, October 14, 2009

David Magnani: An Op-Ed Piece Written by an ex-Sierra Leone Peace Corps Volunteer

Posted Oct 13, 2009 @ 08:39 AM


Peace and Prosperity - Love and Marriage - Horse and Carriage... they go together, as do Peacemaking and Patriotism. Many multinational corporations understand that their own well-being is tied to stability in the countries in which they operate. However, historically that has been interpreted, at least in the developing world, to mean strong-arm leaders who can assure that there will be "no trouble."

President Obama was recently awarded the world's most prestigious honor for making peace, the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was based on his efforts to reverse the basic American foreign policy doctrine that largely dominated since World War II and has kept us at war for much of that time. We'll call it the McNamara-to-Rumsfeld doctrine. As broadly manifested, the United States would be a friend to any government friendly to the United States, irrespective of how that government treats its own people.

In contrast, Obama's foreign policy suggests that the United States will be friends with any government that is friends with its own people, irrespective of that country's commitment to other narrow, short-term self-interests of the United States. The Nobel Committee has chosen to honor an Obama doctrine that seeks to lead through fostering international dialogue, especially among stronger nations, and promotes peace and democracy through development, particularly among the world's poorer nations. This is a confident patriotism, patriotism with a conscience, with intelligence and with the long view.

Obama, and his Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have shown that they understand the necessity of a strong military defense. They also understand that long-term American interests lie with the ability of the rest of the world to develop and flourish and in the context of truly participatory democracy, within a global community of respect. He knows that our own long-term security depends, not on fear or on economic or political orthodoxy or allegiance, but on our ability to foster dialogue and to assist poor nations to grow and prosper.

While this may not seem a radical notion today, it was not long ago that it would have seemed heretical. Even in the late '80's it was broadly held that our wealth depended on extracting natural resources at the lowest possible price from poor countries. We were in a strong position to do so because they did not have the technology or capital to extract those materials and China was not yet available to them as a viable alternative. Our military might and our willingness, almost eagerness, to supply arms to "our friends" reinforced these relationships.

Much has changed. Today, our ability to grow our wealth lies in our ability intelligently to share the wealth - so that other countries can become markets for our capital, our goods, our services and for democracy itself.

In addition, if we have learned anything since 9/11, it is that the most dangerous threat to our security may not be military power, but the global poverty that fertilizes the growth of terror networks around the globe. Violent religious or political zealots recruit adherents much more easily amid grinding poverty.

Finally, there is another "side effect" of this enlightened self-interest: fighting global poverty is the right thing to do! It is true that we will always have material inequality and that without it our market economy could not survive, but global wealth disparity is shockingly severe and increasing exponentially. Suppose that the world's 400 wealthiest individuals met in Faneuil Hall. They would represent the same wealth as the world's poorest 1,000,000,000 people, a wealth disparity of about 25 million to one. Another way to think about it: one person would have the same wealth as a population more than twice that of New England. Dare I say it isn't fair? I know. My Dad used to say "Life isn't fair," but he never stopped trying to make it so.

In the next few days, we will have a chance to make it a little more so by joining Graca Marcel's movement: the Global Campaign Against Poverty (GCAP). She is the wife of Nelson Mandela, and she began this movement in 2007. On October 18 this year we will be given an opportunity to participate in what the Guinness Book of World Records suggests will be the largest global demonstration in history. It will be a chance to bear witness to our commitment to end global poverty, followed by opportunities to act on that commitment in the days following. For more information about this amazing event, and how you can participate, go to . This is one way to get involved. There are thousands of others.

This is not about guilt, nor fear nor weakness - it is about patriotism. It is about building a secure and prosperous America, through building a more just world. It is about the fulfillment that comes from doing something meaningful.

Peacemaking and patriotism. It turns out that putting America first means not leaving others behind. Peace through development; President Bush thought this was an important road to peace when he established the Millennium Fund. JFK thought so when he founded the Peace Corps almost 50 years ago. President Obama still thinks so. They are right, and the Global Campaign Against Poverty is a corps in which we can all enlist.

David Magnani of Framingham, a former state senator, served in the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Sierra Leone and as Peace Corps staff in Kenya.

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