My Turn: Foreign policy must be proactive

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2001

Calm Juneau contrasts the tempest raging elsewhere in the world, not that Juneau is unaffected by recent events. The tragic murders on Sept. 11, the ensuing economic downturn and threats of further terrorism trouble us all. Due to the paramount importance of future conflicts, I believe we must encourage our leaders to take action far across the globe to secure our safety here.

America must become an active peacekeeper and a nation builder, especially in the volatile Middle East. We must be more generous with our wealth because it is the right thing morally but even the self-interested would covet the peace dividends garnered from ending the conflict there.

Sixteen months ago I toured Israel for a week and spoke to Israeli and Palestinian officials. Also, one of my favorite college professors was an Iranian educated as a military lawyer there. He provided a unique perspective that helped me understand the Arab side during the 2001 International Institute for Political and Economic Systems in Greece.

This summer program intended to focus on conflict resolution among the entire Eastern Mediterranean region, but the Israeli and Arab participants dominated. This domination highlighted the lessons given by the two Harvard professors guiding the conflict resolution segment of this program. Each side brought up recent killings, some with truly personal examples, by the other side to justify the next round of killings on their part.

It is a tired aphorism, albeit appropriate, to declare that that this cycle of violence must stop. Each assassination or targeted killing by the Israeli defense forces spurs more Palestinians to volunteer as suicide bombers, or alternatively, each suicide bomber spurs the IDF to assassinate Palestinians. With no end in sight and war pending, it is time for the United States to step in.

Violence already has spilled over here. I heard the Pentagon crash and attended a party in Washington with many young politicos temporarily abstaining from alcohol due to Cipro usage. Our leaders are now aware of the threat; they just need to take the correct action.

Since most Arabs blame America for every rock-throwing Arab child killed by the IDF, the United States needs to use our expertise and diffuse the situation. The Arab-Israeli situation, along with America's support of the brutal dictatorial Middle Eastern regimes that lavish money on their elites while denying basic care to most of their citizenry, has generated most of the anti-American animosity. We should attack both of these problems simultaneously.

The 60 students from 20 Eastern Mediterranean countries brought together for this program looked to the United States for mediation and assistance because there is nowhere else to look. Now most U.S. objections to intervention come from those concerned about cost in terms of cash and American lives. But New York Times columnist Paul Krugman pointed out in an article published Christmas Day that the United States is the least generous rich nation on the planet per capita. As far as losing lives, Americans will continue to die in terrorist incidents or in a future, larger war, if the status quo is maintained.

Americans mistakenly believe that we spend far more to help others than we do, Krugman wrote. Voters want American foreign aid cut to 10 percent of the U.S. budget, when 10 percent is about 20 times what America currently spends on foreign aid. Krugman notes that spending just a dime a day more for the average U.S. citizen would quite literally save the lives of millions, vastly improving standards of living across the world. Millions die of easily preventable diseases and malnutrition while American's fetish over Viagra, weight loss pills, and hair transplants. The contrasts in priority by the American public means that the rest of the world perceives the United States as a wealthy bully who will not share.

We could look at intervening in foreign hot spots as foreign aid. We could also utilize the enormous American military presence in Europe and Asia as peacekeepers while bringing foreign aid levels up to what the American public believes is right. This would show America helping out the needy in both ways.

It is clear that standing idly by is no longer viable. One way or another, we will be involved. I would rather America act in peace to prevent another attack rather than fight another war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Clemens is a 1997 graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School. He now studies at Georgetown University Law Center.

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