Americans Abroad

The New York Times has as much enthusiasm for President Bush as Mr. Creakle, the headmaster of Salem House, had for that wholly unpromising schoolboy, David Copperfield. The Times’s editorials regularly register their disfavor with Mr. Bush’s domestic and foreign policies. What about the American public? In a front-page story on June 21, the Times headline read: Bush Loses Favor Despite Tax Cut and Overseas Trip. The Times correctly pointed out that Mr. Bush’s much ballyhooed tax cut did not bring him the political dividends for which his party hoped. His favorable ratings in the public opinion polls dropped below 50 percent (Republicans reply that he is still higher than Mr. Clinton was at the same point in his administration).

More ominous, 52 percent of Americans do not have confidence in the president’s ability to deal with international affairs, where Republicans traditionally have done better than Democrats in the polls. Do his fellow citizens think Mr. Bush could be conned by Russia’s Vladimir Putin? Or do they intuitively recognize that U.S. foreign policy in 2001 needs an updating that it is not getting?


U.S. foreign policy today strives to do pretty much what it attempted two centuries ago. Along with a perennial concern for protecting the rights of U.S. citizens abroad, two basic concerns shape American foreign policy: national security and economic self-interest. Mr. Bush believes that the construction of a missile defense shield will protect our national security and that the expansion of free trade advances our economic self-interest.

International realists like Henry Kissinger would take it for granted that national security and economic self-interest should be at the core of U.S. foreign policy. While no one would support abandoning these goals, many younger analysts and many thoughtful citizens think that foreign policy needs to be less narrowly constructed in an era of globalization.

Pope John Paul II knows the foreign policy of every nation is self-centered, but he dreams of a better world. On Jan. 13, in his annual address to the diplomatic corps—representatives of the 172 countries that maintain diplomatic relations with the Holy See—the pope noted the persistence of sickness, poverty, injustices and war on the world scene and said forthrightly: Egoism and the will to power are humanity’s worst enemies. In some way they are at the root of every conflict.

Then he added: Believers—and especially Christians—know that another approach is possible. I will formulate it in words that may seem too simple: Every man is my brother! If we were convinced that we are called to live together, that it is wonderful to come to know one another, to respect and help one another, the world would be radically different.

Sadly, no administration and no Congress will adopt the pope’s formula, but many ordinary people have for years been trying to put it into practice. Former president Jimmy Carter correctly pointed out in his 1996 book, Living Faith, that Americans are more generous than their government. Through private relief organizations they give more than $4 billion each year to humanitarian causes in other countries.

Some agencies, like CARE, are secular; many, as Mr. Carter noted, are church-sponsored. Catholic Relief Services, the largest of the agencies supported by U.S. Catholics, has been the official overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since its founding in 1943. Supported by a staff of 324 at its headquarters in Baltimore, more than 3,600 field personnel implement C.R.S.’s emergency relief operations and its long-term health, education, agriculture and community development programs in 85 countries. Of its $373.2 million budget for fiscal year 2000, 82 percent went to those programs and activities.

Alongside C.R.S. there are smaller organizations, like the Catholic Medical Mission Board in New York City, which was founded in 1928 to ship free medical supplies to clinics in poor countries and has since expanded its services. It is currently supporting 50 community-based programs for AIDS victims in five sub-Saharan African countries.

All these private relief organizations, religious and secular, are in a sense partners in the best efforts of the U.S. government abroad. This is partly because some of their funding comes from that government. For instance, $81 million of C.R.S.’s budget last year was derived from federal grants. More important, the work these agencies do and the results they achieve can instruct the designers of U.S. foreign policy and nudge them alongshowing them ways in which Americans can truly be good citizens of the United States and good citizens of the world.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
11 years 12 months ago
Thank you for highlighting Catholic Relief Services in your editorial “Americans Abroad” (7/30), as an agency that successfully addresses the Holy Father’s concerns about global solidarity, and which partners with the U.S. government to encourage its efforts at reducing global poverty.

However, because of conflicting information in briefing materials I forwarded to you, the editorial incorrectly stated the agency’s overhead expenses. Catholic Relief Services allocates 92 percent of its budget for overseas programming, not 82 percent.

All of us at Catholic Relief Services are sincerely appreciative of the continued support given to our agency in your magazine and of America’s professional reporting on humanitarian issues around the world.


The latest from america

Like most public writers, I was used to getting notes that were crude, crazy or even mildly threatening. Normally, I would say a quick prayer for these obviously troubled people and get on with my day. This time it felt different, precisely because the author wasn’t insulting or obviously deranged.
Rachel LuJanuary 21, 2019
In cities across the country, local activists marched in support of a progressive agenda centered on economic justice, racial justice and immigrant rights.
Brandon SanchezJanuary 20, 2019
Pope Francis has suppressed the Ecclesia Dei Commission, a significant decision with consequences for the Holy See’s relations with the priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 19, 2019
Photo: IMDB
A new Netflix miniseries brings out the story’s aspects of adventure and conflict, with occasionally pulse-pounding results.
Rob Weinert-KendtJanuary 19, 2019