- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

NEW YORK, Jan. 20 (UPI) — Not since the rise of the Roman Empire has a single country amassed such military and economic power, and with these an unprecedented capacity for good or evil, as the United States.

The rise of the American empire is unprecedented in that it is not based on conquest and control over colonies. It is founded on the principles of human rights, democracy, the free market, and the rule of law, all protected by the most formidable military machine in the history of humankind.

The sacrifices made to preserve these principles, not only for its own citizens but the citizens of the world, have made possible America's rise to supremacy. But if we allow their erosion to continue — to be chipped away unchecked — our supremacy will eventually be lost.

Only a renewed commitment to fight for these principles, not simply for our own sake but for the sake of humanity everywhere, will prevent us from meeting the same fate as many empires before us, including five in the last century alone — the Ottoman, British, French, German and former Soviet Union.

Many Americans still live in a state of denial about the true nature of our unique global position, but it is time to realize that we have the power to effect global change for the better if we muster the necessary will. I believe that we not only have an historic opportunity, but the responsibility to sustain our supremacy, provided we earn the moral authority to lead a more peaceful and prosperous world. If we fail to rise to this historic occasion, it will be merely a matter of time before old or new nemeses will challenge us.

The underlining prerequisite for achieving this goal depends on our adoption of a bold new approach to foreign policy. Although it rests on seven familiar pillars, this approach will revolutionize our relations with other nations while cementing our leadership and moral authority. Such a foreign policy must focus on our: (1) promoting peace as we wage war on terrorism, (2) supporting sustainable development in poor nations, (3) pursuing expanded human rights, (4) promoting liberal democracies, (5) working closely with other powers, (6) protecting the environment and (7) combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In a previous article, I addressed the need to promote peace as we wage war on terrorism. Here I focus on the critical importance of supporting sustainable development projects in underdeveloped nations.

Providing real aid to underdeveloped nations is absolutely critical for the recipient nations and for us. Failure to do this will result in our gradually losing our claim to being a champion of human rights and also the leverage we now enjoy in order to promote our national agenda.

The situation is critical: America, which had been among the top donor nations, has fallen to No. 22, below the Western European countries and Japan. According to Robert J. Lieber of Georgetown University, a leading researcher on aid to poor nations, during the Kennedy presidency the United States spent 1 percent of its gross domestic product aid to undeveloped nations. Under President Bush, aid has declined to 0.2 percent.

In Afghanistan alone, we spend nearly $1 billion a month on military operations and $25 million on aid. What has further aggravated the situation is that we now give aid to underdeveloped nations on the condition that the money be spent on services or materials mostly provided by U.S. companies, which limits a recipient nation's ability to use the aid where it deems it is most needed. In addition, the aid we give often goes to serve the strategic interests of the United States rather than to eradicate poverty.

Our aid to Israel and several Arab states falls into this category. Globalization, which created trillions in wealth in the 1990s for the industrialized nations, left more than 2 billion people, mostly in Africa and Asia, poorer than they were in the two previous decades — earning on the average less than a $1 a day. In the context of such figures, we need to ask ourselves: What kind of America do we want in 10, 20, or 30 years from today? Our prosperity and well being will, in the final analysis, depend directly on how prosperous the rest of the world really is.

There are those who argue that we are not in a position to provide massive help to underdeveloped nations because we cannot meet our own needs. Our own public schools are crumbling; millions of children are living without health care, with many of these also going to sleep hungry; crime is still an enormous problem, and the burdens of the inner cities are fraying our social fabric. Most of these ailments stem from the terrible mismanagement of our economic resources, and to a lesser extent, the forces of free market that inadvertently leave many behind. But even if we were to provide healthcare to every child in America, rebuild and well equip every school, and eliminate poverty altogether — leaving no person on welfare — these achievements alone — great and desirable as they are —would not guarantee America's long-term national and economic security.

Addressing them is critical, but we must reexamine our priorities and allocate the necessary resources to help other nations, because in the end it will be in our best national interest to do so. Our greatness rests on our ability and willingness to help other nations, however remote they are geographically or culturally, help themselves, and as such to follow the policies of successive presidents, especially Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter.

If we fail to rise to this awesome task and responsibility, the increased illiteracy, hunger, homelessness, and despair of hundreds of millions in many underdeveloped nations of Africa, Asia, and the Americas will come to haunt us.

Wealth and poverty are relative terms; a family of four in America that lives on an annual income of say $12,000 is considered to be poor, as defined by its living below the U.S. poverty line. In contrast, a similar family in Bangladesh or Namibia that lives on $300 a year is also poor, as defined by its living under either of those nation's poverty line.

The dollar's multiple-buying power in third-world nations can, therefore, virtually revolutionize the socio-economic conditions in many of them. For example, in a typical third-world country, $5,000 can provide clean water for a village of 400 to 500 people, while also directly decreasing child mortality. On average, 100 fruit trees can provide an income for a family of $5 for one year. Fifty to 70 cents can buy a tree ready to be planted.

Five-thousand dollars can buy 10 incubators to hatch chicken eggs, thereby creating instant wealth (within 6 months) for an entire village of 500 people.

I am not advocating that we offer outright financial assistance and pray that the leaders in these nations will know how to fully utilize it.

Every type of assistance must come only in the form of participatory sustainable projects that rely on productive partnerships and create jobs and thereby wealth without the infusion of more money and advanced technology.

This approach enables (1) local people to design their own projects, ones they feel would best serve their needs, (2) a private-public partnership, with government participation to facilitate implementation and (3) participation in the development process by non-government sectors such as associations and local community groups, by sharing their expertise.

Specifically, we must increase our foreign aid, at a minimum, to 1 percent of our GDP, or to about $110 billion annually, channeling these funds to sustainable projects through already existing agencies that lack the resources to expand their operations. Among these organizations are the United States Development Agency, the World Bank, the Peace Corps (which can be quadrupled in size), various U.N. agencies, and other non-governmental organizations.

We should also provide tax incentives to American corporations that, operating internationally, allocate money to sustainable projects.

Those who insist we lack the means to do this need to recall our history, especially in the 20th century, when we decided to marshal our national resources, be it for waging war against Nazi Germany, raising Europe from the ashes of World War II, or bringing about the demise of the Soviet Union. In each of these circumstances, we showed our formidable capacity to accomplish "miracles."

Now, as we face a new type of enemy — poverty in many underdeveloped nations — and as we continue to wage war on terrorism and seek a better and more peaceful world — we must again mobilize our national resources and genius to declare war on the poverty, deprivation, and despair in the world's poor nations.

No victory against terrorism is possible if millions of men, women, and children continue to be added daily to the ranks of the suffering and the disdained. In the end, it is by restoring human dignity to those who have lost their human face that we will be able to sustain our supremacy.

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(Alon Ben-Meir is Middle East Project director at the World Policy Institute, New York, and professor of International Relations at New York University.)





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