So let’s put to rest the old myth that development is mere charity that does not serve our interests. And let’s reject the cynicism that says certain countries are condemned to perpetual poverty, for the past half century has witnessed more gains in human development than at any time in history. A disease that had ravaged the generations, smallpox, was eradicated. Health care has reached the far corners of the world, saving the lives of millions. From Latin America to Africa to Asia, developing nations have transformed into leaders in the global economy.
-President Barack Obama, 9/22/2010
Dear Mr. President,
In your remarks at the UN today, you made several points about the way that progress toward a stable and more just world for all is prudent for the national security interests of America and wealthy nations everywhere. I think you're right about this. Achieving the Millenium Development Goals is more than a moral obligation- it's in the our own interest. Which is why it is so disappointing to hear words like this in direct contrast with the way we appropriate funds to support these goals. Spending as much as we do each year on wars against two countries that have little to no basic social services, education or infrastructure seems like maybe we've lost sight of the whole idea behind the MDGs. If you really believe that our national interests are served by fighting poverty, suffering and disillusionment, why do you keep spending so much of our national budget on the tools of war?
You're right about the way this discussion needs to be framed- no act of charity is performed without self-interest. Having a frank conversation with the American people about our interests and the best way to serve them is long overdue. Waging wars might make us feel better, it might create the illusion of progress in a society demanding instant gratification, but I think you know it doesn't server our long-term interests. And while you may safely express this sentiment in remarks to the UN, you have little hope of being heard over the din off a Tea Party rally or town hall full of the angry and the afraid. People may not want to be told that they're wrong, that they have to wait to see the results of our current policies, that they have to work and help and change themselves if our country is going to remain in our position of global leadership over the next few generations. But I think people will always respond better to being told the truth, to be spoken to like adults, than coddled and told only what pleases them. Saying to the American people that economic development, increasing access to education and improving the rights and freedoms of people around the world is the best way to fight terrorism requires more than just words; the way we spend our money also has to change if the MDGs are ever going to be achieved or if the world is ever going to believe that America is serious about our commitments to justice, equality and opportunity for those without it.
This logic should also be applied domestically. Welfare, unemployment benefits, health care- none of it is "mere charity". These social services that protect Americans when they are the most vulnerable help keep our economy and our society more stable. This basic principle- that doing right by the least among us makes all of us stronger- is also not something Americans always want to hear. But I don't think you ran for President to lie to us, and I don't think you ran because it sounded like a fun gig. Americans have to learn to wait, to invest in our long-term interests and stop looking for the quick-fix that only makes us feel better. Until we have a leader willing to tell us that we're never going to make the changes necessary to make the goals for 2015 anything more than optimistic fantasy.