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Sen. Bond: The Peace Corps is Smart Power

Monday, 29 Jun 2009 08:06 PM

By Sen. Kit Bond

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In less-developed nations around the world, too many people are suffering from governments that don’t work; too little food to feed their families; lack of clean water and other basic necessities like shelter and clothes; and little hope for a better life.

Regardless of whether these people live in Africa, Southeast Asia, or the Middle East, they are vulnerable to ideologies that promise a better life. One such insidious ideology is extremist violent Islam. Their goal: to destroy Western nations and convert the world to their ideology. Their tactic: terrorism.

These extremists have been attacking our nation for over two decades: from the bombing of our Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 to the Pan Am 103 bombing in 1988 to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. We had ample warning of the rise of extremist violent Islam, but it was not until the horrifying attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that the true threat was realized.

Since that day, our nation has been resolved to defeating this enemy and preventing another attack on American soil. Thanks to the efforts of some incredibly talented and dedicated patriots in our military, law enforcement and intelligence community, American shores and skies have been kept safe.

But to defeat truly the threat of these bloodthirsty terrorists, we must do more than win on the battlefield; we must ultimately defeat the ideology. To do so, America needs to wise up and invest in “Smart Power” — a term I use to describe the combination of military might with diplomacy, educational exchanges, and economic development.

As vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Defense and State Foreign Operations Appropriations committees, I am working to ensure that Congress provides the resources and policy initiatives needed to expand the use of Smart Power.

Smart Power is an effective way to fight radical ideologies like Extremist Violent Islam, recognizing that before a person can choose his politics, he has to have enough to eat, and a stable community in which to live.

One of the best examples of our nation’s smart power is the U.S. Peace Corps. Since the early 1960s, Peace Corps volunteers have fostered lasting, positive relationships between the United States and nations across the globe through grassroots efforts.

From helping a farmer increase food production, to teaching a child how to read, to working to build clean water infrastructure, to comforting a parent suffering from AIDS, Peace Corp volunteers are transforming communities.

Our Peace Corps volunteers also are transforming hearts and minds, which is increasingly important as anti-Americanism continues to grow throughout the world.

By supporting the important work of our Peace Corps volunteers, the American people are combating this anti-American sentiment with actions and deeds. At no other time in our nation’s history have the efforts of the Peace Corps been more necessary and relevant, which is why I am one of this agency of peace’s strongest supporters and have called for the increase of volunteers around the globe, particularly in the Muslim nations of Southeast Asia.

Over the years, I frequently have visited the countries of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Southern Thailand and the Philippines. This region of the world is home to around one quarter of the world’s Muslims. Despite this fact, the United States too often overlooks this region.

But Southeast Asia and its large Muslim population present our nation with an opportunity we can’t afford to miss: suppress radical ideologies that aim to export terrorism by using Smart Power. Through initiatives like the Peace Corps, we can put sneakers and sandals on the ground, instead of military boots.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this task, which is why I have joined with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lew Simons in writing a book on the need to engage peaceful, mainstream Muslims in places like Southeast Asia.

While sounding the alarm over ignoring Southeast Asia, my book — "The Next Front" out in October — lays out a road map to improving relations with countries afflicted with dangerous Islamist terrorist groups. You guessed it; I will be underscoring the importance of the Peace Corps and other Smart Power initiatives.

For too long America ignored the threat of violent extremism and now we are ignoring the need of non-military, Smart Power investment, but it’s not too late. Already the new administration – particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – has given these initiatives an important public boost.

I look forward to partnering with the new administration and leading the effort in Congress to make Smart Power initiatives a cornerstone in our foreign policy and in our efforts to combat extremism and terrorism around the world.

The war against extremism can be won only by winning the war of ideas and public opinion. In order to be truly successful, the United States must focus the weight of the effort on the ideological front, reaching would-be terrorists before they turn to violence.

By their powerful work fostering development and more productive and stable societies, Peace Corps volunteers are doing just that. Their hard work speaks far louder than the propaganda and self-promoting vitriol espoused by our terrorist enemies.

U.S. Senator Kit Bond, R-Mo, is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

[Editor's Note: Read “A Bold New Peace Corps Transcends Party Divide”- Go Here Now]

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