Freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941
With 2011 coming to a close I reflected on some of the major events that have shaped this year and will continue to have an impact on us as we move into a new year. The unfinished business of our fiscal situation and the reduction of our national deficit will no doubt become a political firestorm in the coming year. But the phenomenon of the Arab Spring is for me the most amazing and unexpected event that has and will continue to shape our world. I never thought to study the origin of this significant movement and as one can imagine there are a number of situations that existed all at once waiting for a spark to light the world on fire. The name of this spark was Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian martyr who immolated himself out of economic and social despair.
Mr. Bouazizi was a budding entrepreneur who had no legitimate access to get into the local market selling fruits and vegetables. Tunisian corruption kept him from his God given responsibility to care for his family’s welfare and out of desperation he turned his life into a public symbol of tragic injustice. What happened was that so many in the Arab world could resonate with his tragic circumstance and as a result we experienced the revolution that continues to rock our world.
The tragic story of Mohamed Bouazizi reminds me of the American principle articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the quote above. In a global interconnected environment, which FDR so clearly perceived, our national security was very much dependent on the economic and social stability and progress of our world community
It is not an option for us, in the midst of budget cuts, to simply assume that any or all of our international aid is simply benevolent charity with no economic repercussion to our own nation. If we look at just our own economic situation it is important to keep in mind that foreign assistance and international aid is directly linked to the development of trade volume and capacity in this nation and according to USAID Fact Sheet, 1 in 5 of US jobs are directly tied to trade volume. The repercussions to our national security ought to be even more obvious. With the present environment of social movements and instability our ethical mandate to work with the international community to help guide this movement in developing opportunities for economic and social progress becomes clear.
The situation of Mr. Bouazizi however ought to also shed some light on the problems of corruption within particular nations. Our economic policy had basically been to deal with the national leadership that could give us the best bang for our buck (and in so doing turn a blind eye to how they operate within their own nation.) The Latin American experience knows this well. International aid and excellent programs like the Millennium Corporate Challenge or Feed the Future are not only poised to offer charity but they set out to offer a development model that functions with the local communities in supporting their own development model. Besides this these programs are working at having national criteria for the promotion of human and civil rights, transparency and accountability of governance, and a commitment to combat corruption. These are international economic investments that are bound to give us some amazing long term returns in the form of social and economic stability.
Mr. Bouazizi’s martyrdom has galvanized a movement that is ready to defend their own “freedom from want.” In this economically difficult year let us commit to embrace this noble American principle by standing with the international community in designing a honest global system that can truly adhere to the aspirations of the human community.