Observations amid a Bombing on a Modest Peace Effort

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Read this story from the American Reporter on the move to expand the Peace Corps to 10,000 volunteers at:


The American Reporter

Vol. 5, No. 1036W -- March 27, 1999

OBSERVATIONS AMID A BOMBING ON A MODEST PEACE EFFORT By Allan R. Andrews American Reporter Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- Less than 48 hours before the U.S. and its NATO allies launched a bombing attack on Yugoslavia in an effort to bring Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic back into the Balkans peace process, the U.S. Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations voted to send a bill that would refinance America's Peace Corps for four more years out to the full Senate for consideration. A similar bill passed early this month in the House.

Even as the world watched and waited for "surgical" air strikes to begin, Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan was telling a tiny press conference at the National Press Club in Washington that the Corps will send more volunteers overseas this year than at any time in the past 25 years, dedicated to serving in foreign lands to promote "world peace and friendship."

The bills in Congress call for the Peace Corps to have 10,000 volunteers in the field by the year 2003. At present, about 6,700 volunteers serve in 80 countries.

Passage of the four-year refinancing will mark the first time in the history of the Peace Corps that such extended fiscal encouragement has come from the Congress.

Gearan noted with a wry smile that "everyone in Washington these days favors the Peace Corps." Then, with the timing of a stand-up comic, he added, "and a missile defense system."

The Peace Corps is 38 years old this month. Gearan recently noted, "It has reached a point where it is essentially stipulated that the Peace Corps is a good thing."

Indeed, it is a good thing. It is also, as Michael Kelly of the National Journal recently characterized it, "modest."

When one totes up the cost of sending bombers and troops to the Balkans, the $241 million that Congress approved in October to fund the Corps in 1999 becomes almost embarrassingly "modest." That's about the cost of building 20-25 F-16s (in 1976) and about one-third of the cost of building a modern F114 Stealth Bomber.

Gearan traveled to Central America this month, accompanying President Clinton on a four-day trip to review relief efforts underway following the devastation wrought in Honduras and other nations by hurricane Mitch.

During that trip, the President met with Peace Corps volunteers in Nicaragua and Honduras. There are 585 Peace Corps volunteers and an additional "Crisis Corps" of 26 serving in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The Crisis Corps, comprised of experienced Peace Corps members who re-enter service for a short-term assignment, was begun about 18 months ago. Gearan refers to them as a kind of "Peace Corps Reserve."

Gearan also noted that First Lady Hillary Clinton would soon visit Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco.

These trips, Gearan argued, highlight the Peace Corps as the "human face" of America to many foreigners facing devastation and defeat in their homelands. There is nothing "surgical" about a Peace Corps volunteer's insertion into a foreign culture unless he or she happens to be trained in medicine.

Clearly, the Peace Corps, the brainchild of former President John F. Kennedy, remains a tiny, glistening diamond in the United States' diplomatic arsenal, despite denials by the Corps and its veterans that it does not perform anything remotely related to diplomacy, a denial one might similarly raise concerning the concerts and shows of Louis Armstrong and Bob Hope.

I'm not attempting an argument for the Peace Corps and against the use of military force in peacekeeping efforts. I simply call attention to the U.S. efforts and wonder about the "modesty" of our unarmed Corps of volunteers in foreign lands.

Gearan's note that the Peace Corps is enjoying an unprecedented popularity may be related to the people serving in Congress and the administration. Five Representatives in the House are veterans of the Peace Corps. One Senator is an ex-Peace Corps volunteer. The governor of Ohio served with the Peace Corps in Tanzania; House and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala volunteered in Iran, and some members of Congress have children or other relatives presently serving with the Peace Corps.

Director Gearan, noting that former director Sargent Shriver continues to lend support and encouragement to the Peace Corps, says that Shriver expressed delight at the forthcoming congressional boost that would lift the Peace Corps to 10,000. But Shriver added, "Why not 40,000? Why not a force as big as the Marine Corps?"

Indeed, why not?

The American Reporter is Copyright 1999 by Joe Shea. All Rights Reserved.

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Allan R. Andrews can be contacted at allan.andrews@reporters.net

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