The Peace Corps is something virtually no one seems to be talking about, though President Donald Trump is well-positioned to reinvigorate this important initiative. He should soon announce his desire to expand and improve the organization. Indeed, there are compelling moral, practical and strategic reasons to pursue this course of action.
Many people are rightly worried that Trump appears to be less interested in promoting an internationalist foreign policy that has, broadly speaking, served the United States (and the world) quite well since the end of World War II. Relatedly, there are concerns that a Trump administration may deprioritize human rights and democracy promotion.
Frankly, Trump’s plan to cut significantly funding for aid and diplomacy is alarming. Clearly, there’s a “bottom-line” component to Trump’s foreign policy worldview, which is exactly why he should be able to recognize how good a deal a robust Peace Corps is. Undeniably, the Peace Corps is far from flawless and Trump could explore ways to make it better and more efficient.
The annual Peace Corps budget in 2016 was $410 million. That might sound like a lot to some readers, but it’s a drop in the proverbial bucket — particularly when you’re talking about more than 7,000 volunteers and trainees who are present in over 60 countries.
The Peace Corps strengthens (mostly young) Americans by presenting them with meaningful challenges and giving them an opportunity to acquire and refine skills — interpersonal, cultural and linguistic, among others — that would be useful irrespective of the career path a volunteer takes upon completing 27 months of service.
There are other benefits for volunteers too, such as the possibility of deferring student loans or participating in unique graduate school opportunities.
The Peace Corps assists other countries by providing help that those nations need and want. Significantly, the Peace Corps allows Americans to live among, work with and — crucially — understand people from around the world. Equally important, the nature of the experience ensures that understanding and cross-cultural exchange are a two-way street. (Admittedly, a lot of these positive outcomes are difficult to measure.)
The Peace Corps doesn’t just foster leadership and allow for lifelong friendships — national and international — to be made. It can change minds and push back on (anti-American) misconceptions in some of the world’s most unique and complicated places.
For thousands upon thousands of non-Americans, one of their most prominent gateways to the United States is the Peace Corps volunteer who serves in their village or town. Please consider that for a moment.
Beefing up and trying to improve the Peace Corps is both good politics and smart policy. Trump and his team should recognize that this is a no-brainer.