January 31, 2005: Headlines: COS - Niger: Country Directors - Niger: Presidents - Bush: Inaugural Address: News Max: Niger Country Director James R. Bullington says President Bush's Inaugural Speech speaks directly to Peace Corps and to Peace Corps' role in Niger

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: January 18, 2005: Ask Not: January 31, 2005: Headlines: COS - Niger: Country Directors - Niger: Presidents - Bush: Inaugural Address: News Max: Niger Country Director James R. Bullington says President Bush's Inaugural Speech speaks directly to Peace Corps and to Peace Corps' role in Niger

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Niger Country Director James R. Bullington says President Bush's Inaugural Speech speaks directly to Peace Corps and to Peace Corps' role in Niger

Niger Country Director James R. Bullington says President Bush's Inaugural Speech speaks directly to Peace Corps and to Peace Corps' role in Niger

Niger Country Director James R. Bullington says President Bush's Inaugural Speech speaks directly to Peace Corps and to Peace Corps' role in Niger

Peace Corps, Niger and the Inaugural Address

James R. Bullington
Peace Corps Country Director, Niger
Monday, Jan. 31, 2005

President Bush's inaugural address was the most eloquent and inspiring political discourse I've heard since Americans were called by President Kennedy to "bear any burden" in 1961, and two years later as I sat among the multitude at the Lincoln Memorial when Martin Luther King said, "I have a dream."

And in studying and reflecting on the President's speech, I find that it speaks directly to Peace Corps and to Peace Corps' role in Niger.

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A New Foreign Policy Vision

Most Europeans and many on the American left read into the speech the darkest of motives, consistent with their defining image of the President as a messianic cowboy bent on imposing American imperialism on the world. I do penance for my sins by listening every morning to Radio France International, which likened the speech to the pronouncements of Orwell's Big Brother in "1984": To Bush, they said, "freedom" really means subjugation by American armed force. Another RFI editorial even suggested a sort of moral equivalence between President Bush and Osama bin Laden.

This sort of mindless, knee-jerk anti-Americanism and Bush bashing is beyond contempt.

More reasonable critics cite the gaps between the speech's soaring rhetoric and today's realities (and probably tomorrow's) in American foreign policy. These gaps certainly exist, but to dwell on them is to miss the main point of what the President said.

As great speeches on such occasions must be, the inaugural address was not a laundry list of specific actions but a statement of vision and values, a description of an ultimate destination. It does nothing less than define a new foreign policy paradigm. With clarity and logic it declares moot the conflict between the historical U.S. foreign policy traditions of idealism and realism: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."

Lincoln's rationale for the Civil War evolved from preserving the Union, a good and necessary cause, to freeing the slaves a great and righteous cause. In like manner, Bush's concept of the war on terrorism has evolved from fighting terrorists, to nation building in the Middle East, to re-grounding all of American foreign policy in the universalist principles of freedom and democracy proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.

Fighting terrorists will continue to demand priority, because failure in this fight would be catastrophic, not just for the immediate victims but also for our way of life. Success in Iraq remains imperative. There will continue to be compromises with the President's proclaimed ideals as we implement specific policies. There are always competing interests and values, and choices are rarely clear.

But now we have an organizing principle for our foreign policy that takes us beyond the war on terrorism: support for freedom and democracy.

The enormous challenge presently before the Administration, and before all of us who labor in the U.S. foreign affairs establishment, is to elaborate institutional frameworks and specific programs that support the President's doctrine.

Which brings me to Peace Corps and to what it should be doing in Niger.

Relevance to Peace Corps

An important part of the President's address was his call to "our youngest citizens" to "Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself." He noted too that "In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service. "

I don't know that the President had Peace Corps in mind when speaking these words, but he certainly could have. For 44 years it has been an iconic embodiment of the calling of America's youth to international service. It is not just foreign aid, a sort of mini-USAID, but a people-to-people program that projects the best of American values: generosity, compassion, optimism, enthusiasm and, yes, support for freedom and democratic principles.

There is no better or more cost-effective instrument than Peace Corps for generating understanding of America and American values in the poor countries of the world, where terrorism tends to breed. It is both idealistic and practical, embodying the President's concept of unity between our vital interests and our deepest beliefs.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush said, "And America needs citizens to extend the compassion of our country to every part of the world. So we will renew the promise of Peace Corps, double its volunteers over the next five years and ask it to join a new effort to encourage development and education and opportunity in the Islamic World."

While there has been some growth, from about 7,000 Volunteers in 2001 to about 7,700 now (the largest number since 1975), congressional appropriations have fallen short of the President's requests and have been insufficient to achieve anything approaching the number of Volunteers the President said he wanted.

We are not talking about a lot of money here. The current Peace Corps appropriation, $317 million, is no more than a rounding error in the federal budget. A great deal more could be done for relatively little.

I hope that implementation of the Bush Doctrine will include funding to enable Peace Corps to resume the growth the President called for three years ago.

Relevance to Niger

On the local level, I see a great opportunity for Peace Corps/Niger to respond directly to the statement in the inaugural address that "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture."

Niger, more than 90 percent Muslim, is becoming a case study, and perhaps a test case, in building democracy in an Islamic country. After 40 years of post-independence political instability, dictatorships and military coups, it was able to hold a free and fair election in 1999 that brought to power a government that has proved to be stable and has adopted sound policies. It has been friendly to America and seeks expanded relations with us. That government was re-elected in late 2004, in another election judged by international observers to be free and fair.

Moreover, in 2004 Niger held its first-ever election for local government bodies. This marked a profound change, not only from the traditional, mostly hereditary system of village chiefs and regional sultans, but also from the highly centralized, top-down government system inherited from the French colonial period.

Under this new system of local government, the country is politically and administratively organized into 265 "communes" that group small towns and villages to include at least 5,000 people. The election was for members of the councils that are to govern the communes. They are to be autonomous, with their own budgets derived from local taxes plus some central government subsidies; and they are to be responsible for economic development as well as day-to-day government functions.

At least that's the theory. In practice, most of the newly elected councils are not functioning at all, much less with any real effectiveness. This is because in this second-poorest country in the world (according to a U.N. index), there are no resources to support the councils, nor is there any experience with this sort of democratic self-governance at the local level. The council members have no offices, no money, no transportation, nothing with which to do their jobs. They don't know what to do, and even if they did they have no means with which to do it.

I've proposed a project for USAID funding, through the Embassy and State Department, which would enable us to assign some Peace Corps Volunteers to the new commune councils as Community Development Assistants. Their role would be to advise on needs assessment and project development, help build relationships with international and non-governmental organizations that provide aid at the local level, and assist in small projects such as classrooms, clinics and wells. We could implement this project, which would reach one-fourth of the communes in the first five years, for about $200,000 per year.

This seems to me to be exactly the sort of support for "the growth of democratic movements and institutions" that the President called for. Moreover, it delivers this support through young American Volunteers who have answered his call "to serve in a cause larger than yourself." It could be a poster-child example of what the Bush Doctrine means in practice.

I initially requested funding for this project a year ago. It was not provided. A renewed request has recently been submitted to the State Department through the Embassy. As the Washington decision makers consider it, I hope they will be mindful of the President's inaugural address and its implications for action.

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Trey Aven monitored Ukraine elections 21 Jan
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Anthony Shriver considers race for Florida Governor 20 Jan
Thomas Tighe says internet brought funds to DRI 20 Jan
Stacy Jupiter researches Australia ecosystems 20 Jan
Libby Garvey is education activist 20 Jan
David McIntyre captures medals on land and in water 19 Jan
Carol Bellamy new president of World Learning 18 Jan
Reed Hastings crossed "Latino Caucus'' 18 Jan
RPCVs sponsor Freeze for Food to aid Colombia farmers 18 Jan
RPCVs urge Bush to aid Democracy in Ukraine 17 Jan
Tom Petri proposes changes in student loan program 17 Jan
Golden Globe Win for Jamie Foxx in RPCV's "Ray" 17 Jan
Stephen Smith is new consul-general in Australia 17 Jan

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: News Max

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Niger; Country Directors - Niger; Presidents - Bush; Inaugural Address



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