A Christmas wish for better foreign policy


POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dear President Elect Obama:

Thanks for your Christmas gift to me and so many others in the form of your hard work, your election and most importantly your comments about foreign policy, which show a better face of America to the world and especially the Muslim communities. Thanks to you, an enlightened foreign policy seems to be visible on the horizon.

In an attempt to thank you, I am writing this simple Christmas card with some ideas that might fit into your goal of improving our national image to the world.

  » Gift idea No. 1: Creation of the American International Disaster Relief Corps. The AIDRC would enlist Americans who are willing to volunteer two to four weeks of their time to go to foreign lands on short notice to assist people following natural disasters.

We have no shortage of natural disasters and no shortage of families crying out for emergency assistance around the world. American volunteers could be flown to those countries, where they would be elbow to elbow with needy fellow earthlings - and I'll bet the first thing they discuss is something other than religion and politics. Under this program, which probably would cost less than the cost of two Falcon jets ($130 million each), people in faraway countries (often Muslim countries) would meet real Americans who are making a difference in their lives. The AIDRC volunteers wouldn't interfere with existing NGOs, and countries could ignore the volunteers if they didn't want the help. But the residents of countries that accept this assistance would finally have an alternate understanding of the words “;the Americans are coming.”;

  » Gift idea No. 2: Creation of the “;Meet Me In America”; program. This effort would enlist several thousand American communities willing to host small groups of visiting elementary schoolchildren from around the world for one- to two-week visits to America. I know many groups that would be glad to show youngsters around their communities and who would love to have their family and friends learn from those children at the same time.

Now I know that certain “;International Studies/Washington-think-tank experts”; will tell you it's dangerous to let our border guard-dog mentality weaken by bringing in 10-year-old Muslim schoolchildren to go to the beach in Hawaii or to enjoy a nice cool shave-ice treat. But I have confidence that no little Muslim kid would be crazy enough to blow up the shave-ice lines on a hot August day. That's nuts. The shave-ice tastes too good. And I doubt that many Muslim 9-year-olds and their parents would be plotting a way to blow up the buffet table at some Iowa farm community's Fourth of July picnic - at least not before getting through the potluck line and past the dessert table.

The Meet Me In America program again would allow thousands of youngsters to meet real Americans and see how we live and act in our home communities. It also would show the world that rather than be frozen by 9/11 trauma, Americans are moving forward without fear, willing to meet people throughout the world. Again, some countries, religious groups and communities might not want to send youngsters to see America, but each child who did come would be filled with thoughts about how to create the type of world that they desire for themselves and their families.

  » Gift idea No. 3: Creation of the “;University for the World”; program. This effort would consist of a highly publicized scholarship program for Third World, qualified college-age students who need help with college costs. This program would fund thousands of students to travel to America or other countries for college or vocational courses. It also could fund scholarships for American students who want to travel to Third World countries to study. And guess what? This effort to get college-age students to meet others in the world dressed in something other than “;battle gear”; again would cost less than two Falcon jets.

Please accept my gift ideas to you in the spirit of Christmas. I think they come close to touching on your policy goals of improving our image to the world. I know they encompass my belief that we need a “;second front in the war on terror”; and that a Good Samaritan foreign policy costs less and makes as much sense as an exclusive “;bombs away”; foreign policy.

I have to admit that I debated whether to write this Christmas card to you and publicly expose myself to possible criticism for being hopelessly naive. But then I remembered that I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, where I helped build schools, initiated a community-run clean water system that has functioned for more than 40 years and still have friends who warmly welcome me back to their farm communities, and who remember me as the Americano who taught them to work together to build up their community.

Merry Christmas to you and your family, Mr. President-elect.


Joseph F. Zuiker is an attorney in Honolulu.