Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Smart power vs. dumb power

   At first glance, nothing justified the remake of Footloose. Then again, if we examine the political landscape, whether the issue is dancing or this nation acting like an adult on the world scene, we all need to be warned of the price of provincialism.

    Know without a doubt that parochialism and regression are the itches that the tea party has scratched.

    A common  theme: The United States should cease foreign aid as a grand gesture of budget austerity. Of course, generally such claims spring from ignorance of how much the federal foreign aid represents.

    That would be less than 1 percent. The tea partiers want less than that. Ask them.

    That would result in exactly the opposite of what Time magazine describes in a report focused on the successes of the Obama State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The subject: "smart power."

     The New York Times describes it as emphasizing "diplomacy and development to complement U.S. military power."

     Don't expect any of those with daggers drawn for Obama to admit he has done so much as one smart thing in the world. But Time looks at what the administration did in Libya, and: In the NATO operation that toppled Moammar Gadhafi, the State Department engineered a coalition with players as diverse as the Arab League, France and Britain, while convincing Russia not to veto in the U.N. Security Council. This, Clinton says is the efficacy of "convening power" — building up one's hand with widespread support. This is in contrast, Time observes, to the go-it-alone approach of the Bush administration, which believed that "too much international cooperation weakens America."

     Back to the issue — no, the imperative — of foreign aid.

    It's a realm in which the United States has done great things worth its proclaimed status as a beacon of reason and compassion. One such matter was a credit to the Bush administration: monetary support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Just the other day the World Health Organization reported tuberculosis at a 20-year low. The world's second leading killer, TB works as executioner hand-in-glove with AIDS amid immune suppression.

   An international player supporting this and other forms of foreign aid that deliver much good for modest bucks is the organization RESULTS. Among its causes: the amazing power of "micro credit," where tiny loans spawn enterprise and hope in the world's poorest regions.

     Nowhere is "smart power" a more apt term than in one of RESULTS' current initiatives: support for the Global Partnership for Education. It couldn't address a more pressing issue — that as many as 67 million children in the Third World, mostly girls, don't go to school at all.

   A coalition of developed nations has convened to help build schools and pressure recalcitrant governments. The United States is in the coalition, but fiscally it is sidelines-bound, embarrassing for a nation that has so much. Forces in the Congress are trying to change this for the better, but right now all we hear are voices of a regression that has convinced them we don't have the resources to help in smart ways. It would be so good for Obama to express how much a little could do in this regard (8,000 children educated for every $1 million the fund adds.)

    Don't have the resources, America? We had enough to wage two wars on the other side of the world, enough to have a military budget that dwarfs entire developed nations' budgets. At the same time, possessed of tax policies whose ultimate goal was to starve all but military spending, federal taxes as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product have shrunk to a rate not experienced since 1950.

   Yes, we we have the resources to be smart overseas. Over the last decade we have invested heavily in the utility of war. Those who now denounce foreign aid sat mute while billions of dollars flowed to that enterprise like a great river. Never once did they appear to worry about war's staggering fiscal dimensions, the debt accrued, they waitied until Obama became president.

    Smart. Not.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


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