In this 2002 photo, I balance on one foot at Pacific Beach in San Diego.

Love Thy Neighbor: a new approach to foreign policy

[The following is the text of a speech I delivered at my Toastmaster’s club on November 5, 2001 after the United States began participating in the Afghanistan war in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  I am somewhat less idealistic now than these words suggest, but I still like the spirit of this speech.]

How would you respond if I spanked my child when he misbehaved and never showed him affection?  You would correctly think I was being cruel, and we shouldn’t expect that my child would turn out any differently.  Unfortunately, America has followed a similar path.  At the present, we are the richest, most powerful country in the world, but we have been selfish in how we have shared our fortune with others.

A little love might have prevented the recent twin catastrophes.  When the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan, our government pulled out its support as well.  The resulting vacuum left Afghanistan without a stable economic or political base, and civil war and fundamentalism
were the predictable result.  Until a terrorist sheltered by the country began his assaults on the United States, few Americans could have pointed to Afghanistan on a map.

Imagine how different the present might have been had America invested in Afghanistan’s economic and political infrastructure after the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989!  Do you know just how much America spends on International Affairs for each dollar spent on National Defense?  [solicit guesses]  The correct answer is less than seven and a half cents.

America has not merely failed to give much-needed support to countries on the teetering edge between civilization and barbarism.  We have been inconsistent, sometimes supporting governments we knew to be corrupt and other times opposing governments that had broad popular support.  We do not hold all countries to the same standard.

I envision a world in which America is a partner for growth.  America can and should work to improve the economic and governmental infrastructure in Africa and Asia.  Basic resources like transcontinental railroads could revolutionize the economies of these areas.  Establishing modern power plants can help spur growth and protect the environment at the same time.  With these in place, the economic future of these countries would take a giant leap forward.

When the economic picture becomes more promising, governmental reform becomes possible.  Prosperous people take a stronger interest in their governments, and the United States will be poised to influence them by having made real contributions.

Perhaps most importantly, Americans can play a huge role in improving education in foreign countries.  The United States should sponsor grants to increase the numbers of Americans working abroad.  Through our superior graduate school system, we have taken the world’s most promising thinkers for decades.  We should return the favor.

I imagine the world of 2100.  Africa’s new middle class is flourishing, and the standard of living has increased dramatically throughout south Asia.  The gap between rich and poor has diminished. War has ceased to be an attractive proposition; everyone has something to lose now!

In America, the change has been more subtle, but still significant. Corporations still examine job candidates for real-world experience, but now that definition of the world has expanded.  Economic infrastructure in distant lands has been of enormous benefit to multinational corporations.  Defense spending has diminished significantly from its peak in the early twenty-first century as threats reduced in scale and number.  America is no longer looking inward; the vital dynamism of the country has returned with a force that formerly seemed impossible.

I believe that this future is not only possible but also necessary. Americans cannot remain satisfied to have wealth within our borders. We must demonstrate our love for our neighbors and spread prosperity, good governance, and education world-wide.  If we fail, we can only expect more problems with festering jealousy and hatred.

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