There is no denying that the world is full of problems. From the recent developments in Myanmar to the violence in Darfur to the ongoing conflict in Iraq, we continue to see the rise of evil people who oppress their fellow man. In light of these events, it is easy for us to want to step in and "fix" the problems. In Thursday's presidential debate, Ron Paul was attacked for saying that he would not become involved in Darfur. Is he insensitive to the problems around the world? Doesn't he want to help the suffering and aid the needy?
The issue is not about caring. It is about understanding which battles should be fought. If we attempted to fix every problem in the world, we would be spread so thin that we could accomplish very little and bankrupt ourselves in the process. There are several key points that must be considered when addressing federal aid and military assistance around the world.
1) We are often not wanted
Many of the conflicts around the world are caused by grudges and feuds that have raged for hundreds if not thousands of years. Just like domestic disputes between couples, the combatants resent any outside interference in what is to them a very personal matter. We often do not understand the intricacies involved in the internal politics, and our misguiding actions can often destabilize the region instead of solving the problem. This misunderstanding of the history and politics also makes it very difficult to ascertain which side of the conflict is really in the wrong and which side deserves our support. In many of these civil wars, both sides are responsible for atrocities committed against the other and choosing sides becomes more a case of political convenience rather than moral outrage.
2) Our federal aid is often ineffective
The aid and assistance that we send to foreign countries usually ends up in the hands of those currently in power in that country. Federal aid is required to go through diplomatic channels that results in the vast majority of aid going into the hands of the military and governments of foreign countries rather than reaching the country's citizens where it is most needed. These resources are often used as a weapon against their people by requiring subservience to get meager scraps from the government table.
There is also inherent in federal spending the waste and corruption that has become all to prevalent in Washington D.C. How much of the foreign aid becomes corporate subsidies for American companies working in the region? For example, as the Sudan and other regions in Africa tear themselves apart, the oil companies continue to rake in profits in well protected and maintained facilities. These companies are often supported by our government to "improve the economy" of these nations, but in fact, the average citizens see little to no benefit. A few national leaders and the owners of these corporations are the only ones who grow fat and wealthy off the oil money. I don't think anyone would see making the rich richer as an effective foreign policy.
3) Our involvement can be seen as arrogant, hypocritical, and damaging.
We Americans have had a reputation for arrogance and ignorance for quite a while now. Even at our best, a lot of this reputation was deserved -- and not always for bad reasons. Our government system has been very effective, and our liberties have given us some reason to boast about the virtues of American freedom. However, we need to remember that we are not perfect, and the other countries of the world are very cognizant of that fact. It does seem rather hypocritical that we are pushing the virtues of democracy when our own citizens are so disenfranchised by the process that we have less than half of our citizens turning out to vote in our elections. Our foreign policy seems to strut around as if only we know the correct solutions and can solve the problems of the world. We claim a moral high ground even as we pick and choose our battles based on selfish monetary or political gain as opposed to any true moral outrage or justification. This fuels anti-American sentiment as our actions are very often hypocritical and cause untold hardships for many people who are hurt along the way. Let us not forget that Saddam Hussein was put in power via actions of the United States government in Iraq. In a sense, we are responsible for the atrocities he committed in Iraq because we gave him the ability to do so.
A study of American history will reveal example after example of suffering and war caused by American foreign policies. Who are we to criticize other countries about mistreating ethnic groups when we have our own sordid past with American Indian oppression and detainment camps for Americans of Japanese descent during World War II? Do we have any right to claim a moral high ground when our own history is replete with failures and prejudice? We need to remember that we too are human with all of the frailties and failings common to all men.
So what should we do? The solution is not to isolate ourselves from the world. There are problems in the world that need our help. There are starving children around the world that need to be fed. There are oppressed people who desperately need help. We cannot sit idly by while they suffer and die. However, the best solution is not federal. In foreign aid as in most things, the best solution is personal. In personal charitable giving, Americans are the most generous people in the world. Further, charitable organizations are often far more effective at getting aid and assistance directly to the people who need it the most. They can often bypass the governments in ways that our federal government can't, and the presence of personnel on the ground in these countries gives them the ability to understand the true nature of the problems far better than our bureaucrats in Washington D.C.
This is the position of Ron Paul. Instead of relying on the government to try to address problems around the world, he wants to empower us as individuals to get involved. By allowing us to keep our money by not paying income tax, it frees us to spend that money on the issues that matter most to us in the way that we see fit. Talk the the citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi to see who was most effective in reaching out and helping them in their needs after Katrina. Private charity groups and churches were far better at getting the money and resources where they were most needed than the federal government, and the same rule applies to foreign aid as well.
As the saying goes, if you want a job done, you have to do it yourself. While private aid may not avoid all of the pitfalls listed above, it goes a long way toward that goal by bypassing the greed and corruption that inherently comes with bureaucracy and big government.
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Who is responsible for 9/11?
In America, the inquiry into who is responsible for 9/11 is in full swing. Suspicion is being cast, blame is being passed, and everyone has a different view of what should have been done. However, no one wants to admit the truth of the matter here in America. Who was to blame for 9/11? We all were.
Let's face it: Americans were not ready to seriously consider terrorism until after 9/11. We were too busy worrying about Y2K bugs, our rising and then disappearing portfolios, the latest sports team strike, hanging chads, and last week's episode of Friends. Al Qaeda was far from a household name, and the Taliban, to those who even knew who they existed, were just some religious fanatics who were discriminating against women and destroying the cultural heritage of Afghanistan by destroying some ancient statues.
We hear accusations that the government should have killed Osama bin Laden or invaded the Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, but let's be honest here. Many still strongly oppose "assassinating" leaders of foreign countries or groups, and there were protests against our invasion of Afghanistan even after 9/11. It would have been very difficult to pursuade Americans that we needed to invade some insignificant Middle Eastern country for some nebulous evil that was being done there. Sure they were militant extremists, but they were all over there. The terrorist attacks on American interests were all over there. What did that matter to us? Did we really want to risk American lives for what was really just a Middle Eastern problem?
As for increasing security, does anyone really think that the American people would have put up with the headaches and inconvenience of our current airport security back then? People complain about it even now, and back then, the average American saw no need to worry about attacks on American soil. Sure, people talked about the potential threat, but nothing had ever really happened here in America. Terrorism was just something that people had to worry about in the Middle East and Europe. We were isolated. We had the ocean between us and them. We were too far away. We were fat and happy in our own little coccoon. Even if we were concerned, we were not willing to actually make the effort to do something about it. We didn't want to have to go to the airport any earlier than absolutely necessary, and we certainly didn't see any need to be delayed in crossing the border into Canada with unnecessary security checks. The average American would have been up in arms if they had started implementing the current security procedures back then. Afterall, our time was valuable.
The attack on 9/11 was unprecedented. There had never been a hijacking that ended in a plane being flown into a building. No one, save the Al Qaeda themselves, could have foreseen this event. There are lessons to be learned and improvements to be made, but there is more than enough blame to pass around for all Americans, be they Democrat or Republican. Could have, should have, would have. The enemy is still here, and they want to kill us as much as ever. Let's not waste time and effort haggling over past blame.