Two very different subjects came together this weekend: The United Nations and problems in American education expressed by the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.
The two subjects seem unrelated, but you will soon see how they merge.
The United Nations showed up in an e-mail forwarded to me by a parent of one of my international students. In it, the author recommended that the U.S. stop foreign aid because various countries that we give foreign aid to voted against us in the United Nations.
For example, according to e-mail, “Kuwait votes against the United States 67 percent of the time. Qatar votes against the United States 67 percent of the time. Morocco votes against the United States 70 percent of the time” and so on.
The writer was outraged because “Egypt, for example, after voting 79 percent of the time against the United States, still receives $2 billion annually in U.S. foreign aid. Jordan votes 71 percent against the United States and receives $192,814,000 annually in U.S. foreign aid…”
First, the United Nations was created after World War II to prevent future world wars. As such, it’s worked. A similar body, called the League of Nations, was created after World War I. It didn’t work because conservative isolationists in Congress voted against our membership. World War II followed. We have not had a world war since, although plenty of opportunities existed for them.
When Soviet Premier Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the lectern in the United Nations in 1960, he was not pressing a button to send nuclear bombs raining down on the U.S.
Second, the U.N. was set up to give equal rights to its members – with a Security Council containing five permanent members like the U.S. and a rotating list of 10 smaller countries. They are supposed to agree and disagree with each other within the confines of the United Nations instead of taking their disputes into the battlefield.
Moreover, the countries voting against us have every right to disagree. They are not “bought and paid for.” Giving them money does not accord us the right to dictate their decisions or policies. Thinking like that is why we are mired in Afghanistan and Iraq. We cannot dictate to other countries, any more than we want them dictating policies to us.
Moreover, foreign aid is necessary, as was noted in a 2004 report written for Congress by Curt Tarnoff, specialist in Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs and National Defense, and by Larry Nowels, specialist in Foreign Affairs and National Defense.
“Foreign assistance is a fundamental component of the international affairs budget and is viewed by many as an essential instrument of U.S. foreign policy,” they wrote.
We also don’t overspend. “The 0.2 percent of U.S. gross national product represented by foreign aid obligations the past two years, however, is among the smallest amounts in the last half-century. The United States is the largest international economic aid donor in dollar terms, but is the smallest contributor among the major donor governments when calculated as a percent of gross national income,” the Bush administration officials noted.
Here are just a few of the goals of our foreign aid they identified: “supporting peace in the Middle East through assistance to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians; fostering democratization and stability for countries in crisis, such as Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Liberia; facilitating democratization and free market economies in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union; suppressing international narcotics production and trafficking through assistance to Colombia and other Andean drug-producing countries; and alleviating famine and mitigating refugee situations in places throughout the world.”
Hard to argue with any of that.
What else does the United Nations do? For starters, the world body works on health issues. Smallpox, once a dread disease, was eradicated by the United Nations. It also deals with refugees, hunger, abuse of children and so much more. At the same time, UN agencies are focusing on global warming, pollution, and water shortages, issues that must be dealt with on a worldwide basis.
No, it’s not perfect. No single body containing at last count 192 members, all with ethnic and historical differences, is going to function smoothly. It is, however, far better than nothing.
Which brings us to education. The fuzzy thinking in the e-mail reflects the decline in American education, something that Secretary Duncan has commented on. Students today don’t know how to think, to probe an issue, to analyze. They can simply take tests. They spout facts, but don’t understand what they are talking about. They don’t know history.
Like the e-mail writer.
United States cannot endure without an educated population. This country’s founders knew that. Too bad not enough people know that anymore and focus instead of extraneous targets.
Bill Lazarus is a writer and historian who expresses his opinions in blogs. His books can be found on Amazon.com, Kindle and his website, williamplazarus.com.