The 4th of July is a day to commemorate our country’s independence. 237 years later, it is still unclear what independence means for our form of government. For most, the holiday is a respite to reflect on those who have taken up the burden to keep the country free, but few will truly get to the heart of contemplating what this idea that our forefathers imagined actually means.
It is more than a semantic discussion. The words liberty, freedom and independence are used loosely this holiday and often interchangeably. To our founding fathers who first began this American experiment, independence was more than a phrase or slogan; it was a way of life.
For better or worse, we have strayed from the fundamental ideals that the framers dreamt up. A fundamental warning from our first President, George Washington has largely been ignored. Instead of steering “clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world,” we have been entangled with it in order to preserve newfound vital national interests. Oddly, as a country, we have not discussed (at least collectively) what some of those priorities are. With a citizenry in the dark and a widening political divide between two aisles in Congress, it has been convenient to turn a blind eye to what is happening outside our borders and what our government is doing to influence other nations.
Last year the United States spent $56 billion on foreign aid, roughly equivalent to the net incomes of Starbucks and Wal-Mart combined. Diplomats and soft power advocates would argue that it was mostly money well spent, although such results are difficult to quantify. In Afghanistan alone, the US spends roughly $8 billion a month with promises of guaranteed aid that will be given long after coalition forces withdraw. With all of the money spent on foreign governments and militaries, the question is, are these investments worth it? Moreover, are they keeping with our tradition of independence?
As much as we try to passively protect our own interests abroad through foreign aid, the irony here is that we gradually become more dependent on other countries successes and failures. Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Israel are just a few countries that we give millions of dollars to annually. In some cases by meddling in their affairs all we create is more tension and resentment from their governments or neighbors.
Writing about the hazards of foreign aid should not be misconstrued as shortsightedness or isolationism. Rather, it should serve as an important question as to whether what we’re doing is having the intended consequence that we desire in order to keep America independent. It is not just about dollars and cents or cutting spending. It is about smarter policies that that focus more on outcomes than output.
The irony of this theory is that America should do more not less. If we spent half of the money that we give to the Afghan government under President Karzai on individuals instead on bureaucrats, we could give 80,000 entrepreneurs $50,000 each month for innovative start ups. Rather than investing in an often times corrupt, slow moving, top-down system of government, we could reach those who could make immediate impacts in their communities by giving them start up loans and empowering them to take control of their future.
The example of Flying Scarfs, which as created by a group of Air Force officers, is a perfect example of investing in local artisans and thereby boosting the local economy without any government grants, contracts or interference. It is now a sustainable business that has been replicated in Haiti and soon to be Kenya.
When we think of what our founding fathers must have had in mind when they pursued independence, spending $20 billion a year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan was certainly not it. That amount is enough to fund Amtrak for 40 years. The price of freedom may be immeasurable, but the true cost is a real figure.
Independence is an objective that this country still strives for. In recent years we have undergone transformations in the energy industry to be independent from foreign oil. These initiatives are more than cost saving measures. They have the potential to be cornerstones of our foreign policy, but even more so, our much forgotten domestic policy.
Another President of ours (Eisenhower) used his farewell address to caution America from using its resources to destroy versus create. He spoke of the ills of an industrial system used primarily to fight wars as humanity hanging from an iron cross. He famously remarked, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” The current President should not wait until his reign is over like his predecessors Washington and Eisenhower to right the ship that we are on now.
This 4th of July will mark 237 years of so-called independence. However, when one looks at how our interests, foreign ties and money are entangled, it seems the opposite. This holiday we ought to look at innovative alternatives that maximize our capabilities while minimizing our vulnerabilities going forward. That way we can focus on an America that can be independent once and for all.