Iraq: What Happens When They Neglect the Peace Corps (April 12, 2008)

10May14

The Peace Corps has consistently accepted about 30% to 40% of its applicants. But what if the nation had maintained a commitment to the Peace Corps at least as strong as its commitment to the military?

We do need a military. But we, and the world, have also needed other things as well. Iraq is a case in point.

In 2003, American forces quickly seized Baghdad. In traditional military terms, their mission was, as President Bush notoriously announced, accomplished.

Yet that is actually where the hard work began; and for that, the U.S. was terribly unprepared. It has taken years to get beyond the cowboy mentality and get serious about engaging the people of that alien land on their own terms.

The people of America have been aware, for decades, that they were needed and could be useful in the Peace Corps. But the money was not there.

If those tens of thousands of would-be volunteers had been able to enter the Peace Corps, they, their children, and their friends and neighbors would have gone through life with an enhanced awareness of what life is like in other cultures. Some of those people would have become influential in their communities and even nationally. Through their influence, the idea that we could waltz into Iraq, take over, and make sweeping changes, might have raised an appropriate level of doubt among the American population.

An ongoing commitment to making the Peace Corps larger and stronger — on a par with, say, growth in the military — would also have meant the development of knowledge and infrastructure. There would have been experienced people and systems in place to take over and proceed intelligently when the “mission” was “accomplished.”

Being engaged with the needs of our fellow citizens in the world is not a nice thing that we do because we have money to burn. It is an essential, minimum counterweight to the fact that we are way over here in North America, not very near to most of the world’s cultures, and therefore are especially likely to be ignorant of events and foolish in our expenditures.

Better late than never. The Peace Corps goes on, and so does the world. Hopefully some president, someday, will prove determined and able to resurrect the original vision and to surpass it. Doing so would be best, not only for countless people whom we might help, but also for our own futures.

(This item was originally posted in my old computer blog.)

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