NPCA President and CEO Kevin Quigley (Thailand 1976-79) wants to align the Peace Corps with our "national interests"

NPCA President and CEO Kevin Quigley (Thailand 1976-79) wants to align the Peace Corps with our “national interests”

You might have read Kevin’s testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee week on October 6, 2011 (I know you think you have more important things to do, but still…..). In his public testimony, Kevin’s second recommendation is that the agency should “Align Country Selection More Closely with Long‐term National Interests”

In other words, what’s good for the State Department is good for the Peace Corps.

Interestingly, former senator and early architect of the Peace Corps, Harris Wofford, made the point in his Q & A with Senator Menendez at this same Hearing that when establishing the agency Secretary of State Dean Rush told President Kennedy that “the Peace Corps is not an instrument of foreign policy, because to make it so would rob it of its contribution to foreign policy.”

As for Kevin’s idea of getting Peace Corps PCVs into Muslim countries, Wofford also tells the story of how back in the early ’60s, Shriver, responding to an essay by George Sokolsky in the Saturday Reviewthat PCVs should know how to present “an ideal that will… make it possible for a person to look toward Washington as a Muslim does toward Mecca.”…by answering: “Our purpose is peace-not salesmanship….Their (PCVs) mission is not to convert, but to communicate.”

So, I’d suggest that we get away from all this talk of making the Peace Corps into something that it was never meant to be, and forget what NPCA President is telling a Congressional Hearing: “this portfolio (Peace Corps countries) needs to weigh more heavily strategic countries important to our long-term interest….”

No it doesn’t, Kevin. This is Peace Corps, remember…

You can read Quigley’s testimony, as well as the others, at:

 http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=ec9e2606-5056-a032-521a-e9b8791a03c6 

 

16 Comments

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  • Kevin…I am disappointed that you feel that Peace Corps needs to be more like State, a Junior USAID! You need to go back to the first years, Peace Corps is not an arm of US Policy…but represents the spirit and dreams of the people of our great nation. This is almost like asking that a Monument be built in DC to honor Volunteers! You should review the three goals of Peace Corps! Speak up RPCV’s…let them hear your voice! Bob Arais

  • I am totally convinced that the Peace Corps will be most effective if it remains divorced from the narrow aims of US foreign policy and remains committed to the original ideals and mission defined by Sargent Shriver. It may be tempting to tie the Peace Corps’ mission to the country’s foreign policy objectives. .But the Volunteers will forever be more effective when motivated only by their host country’s needs and America’s fundamental values.AFTER 50 VERY SUCCESSFUL YEARS DON’T CHANGE THE PEACE CORPS’ MISSION

  • Coyne’s critique of Quigley’s Congressional testimony is on the mark. Peace Corps policy should be driven by the needs and aspirations of the disadvantaged and powerless billions, not by the all-too-often misguided definitions of “national interest” produced by State and Defense Department bureaucrats.

    My reasons for advocating this separation are similar to those expressed by Vice-President Johnson in early 1961. At the time, the Peace Corps was battling administrators demanding its integration into the State Department as a subdivision of AID (now USAID). LBJ’s advice, paraphrased by Bill Moyers in a letter to a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee reads:

    “Boys, this town is full of folks who believe the only way to do something is their way. That’s especially true in diplomacy and things like that because they work with foreign government¬s and protocol is oh-so-mighty important to them, with guidebooks and rulebooks and do’s-and-don’ts to keep you from offending someone. You put the Peace Corps in the foreign service and they’ll put stripped pants on your people when all you want them to have is a knapsack and a tool kit and a lot of imagination.”

    A 21st century LBJ would probably add a laptop computer and an iPod to the equipment list but make no other changes.

  • As a Peace Corps Volunteer put into the estripped pants of a diplomat I guess I can comment here. US AID is the US government’s arm for alleviating the misery of so many in this world of 7 billion people. It spends billions of dollars each year to do this and has far more assets to bring to the task than does the Peace Corps. At best the Peace Corps can be no more than a guiding principal for more important assistance groups to follow or immulate. It is this role the Peace Corps should promote and perfect, the be the best guide for the rest of America’s efforts to aid others.

  • Kevin Quigley’s testimony parrots that of current Peace Corps leadership which is being squeezed into begging for adequate resources from Congress with no support from the White House. It espouses such folly as a palliative to Members of Congress who hold its purse strings. Fortunately, PC won’t be able to implement such policies.

    The lesson, I suggest, is that the community needs to be more proactive in advocating for the independence and essential value of Peace Corps along with adequate resources. Meanwhile, NPCA, – reliant upon Peace Corps for funds and with a paid membership of less than 3% of the PC community – should re-think its position.

  • For fifty years Peace Corps has worked fine with the working philosophy of people helping people with no agenda. In overview, it’s what sets the Peace Corps apart from other D.C. bureaucracies. It ain’t broke, so stop trying to fix it.

  • Throughout PC history, there has been a tension between the need to be free of US policy entanglements and the need t be “relevant.” The word “relevant” is usually invoked rather than the expression “national interest.” The pressure has come from the White House, but the PC has usually been a willing victim. Even Sargent Shriver ferried more volunteers to Latin America than anywhere else to fit in with his brother in law’s Alliance for Progress. There are a good number of examples. In the 1980s, even the beloved Loret Ruppe, to make the PC relevant, increased the size of the PC in Central America to go along with the report of the Kissinger Commission, which advocated increased economic aid to bolster the military aid Reagan was sending to fight leftist insurgencies. As a result, Honduras, which was letting itself be used as a haven for the anti-Sandinista Contras, became the largest PC country in the world. When the Cold War ended, Paul Coverdell, who had already changed the name of the agency to the US Peace Corps, was gung ho about pouring PCVs into eastern Europe and the former USSR to teach capitalism and the language of capitalism — English. In almost every case, whenever the PC has agreed to become “relevant,” programming has suffered.— because PCVs were sent to a country for the wrong reason., Quigley has come up with a hoary idea and a bad idea, and it is good to see Harris Wofford still resisting it.

  • Look at the record of the past 50 years — Peace Corps is NOT a development project; it is NOT an agency of US foreign policy; it is a person-to-person program.
    Let’s listen to the voices of the 200,000 who’ve served and shape Peace Corps to pursue their visions.
    (P.S. A massive oral history project would help in this regard.)

  • Bob I agree with you that the Peace Corps is a person-to-person program. However, the Peace Corps itself and most of its supporters consider it to be a development agency, with improving understanding between Americans and others incidental to doing a job that will save the world.

  • Stan,
    Thank you for identifying the Director associated with each of the policies you described. I think it is too easy to use the term “generic” Peace Corps and that obscures the history and the political motivations of specific administrations.

    I also wonder if Peace Corps survived because both the Republicans and Democrats knew that they could, in effect, control the direction of the agency through those plum political appointments, when their party was in power.

    Bob,
    You are certainly the godfather of RPCV Oral Histories. Thank you.

  • Bob: While the oral history project is a fantastic idea, it will not enlighten us about agency strategy or emphasis. Rather, it remind us of the common denominators to service; difficulties learning a foreign language and culture, the constant struggle to stay healthy, lonliness and afterwards, gratefulness for the opportunity to swap experience for work (much like the CCC for another generation). By the way, while we tend to beat our chests about 200,000 serving in the Peace Corps over 50 years, 2 million served in the CCC over 7 years.

    I have heard many volunteers state that the Peace Corps is not nor has ever been a development agency. Does that ring familiar? When did it become a crime to build? In the United States, our life span increased most dramatically between 1900 and 1930 as a consequence to the construction of sanitary sewers and potable water systems nationwide (with the help and sponsorship of the national government). Early on, this was duplicated by the Peace Corps abroad. In 1963, 25.6% of all volunteers worldwide were assigned to community development and included architects, engineers, surveyors, urban planners and construciton specialists- one in four. In 1965 the relative number had risen to 27%. It was still 25% in 1968 when Nixon was elected. By 1971, the relative number had dropped to 4.2%. There was obviously a change of direction.

    There is also a question about what development is. Forestors, for instance, were counted as part of an agricultural sector. In Honduras where I served between 1975 and 1977, the majority of volunteers were forestors who taught Hondurans how to manage their trees. Simultaneously, the World Bank financed the modernization of Puerto Cortes on the Atlantic coast so that it could accommodate large Japanese factory ships upon which Honduran wood was loaded and processed during its return trip to Japan into plywood. In other words, the new strategy about development no longer emphasized improvement to public health but rather the sustained, efficient export of natural resources to industrialized nations. Later, I studied in Mexico and was surprised to discover that this was discussed worldwide but never mentioned much here at home. Development has always been and still is part of the Peace Corps. Strategies change.

  • All of the numbers I cited in my last post (and more) are included in my book, Peace Corps Chronology; 1961-2010. The sources are primarily government reports to Congress. The point is not to demean our collective humanitarian efforts over the last half century but to consider our directions. I agree with Stan Meisler that our strategies do change, just as do our logistics. If the Peace Corps were disbanded, the message to the world would be that we just don’t give a damn. Better we sharpen our pencils and rethink. For instance, today Washington D.C. has about three times the staff that it did when the agency last fielded this numbr of volunteers. That’s called top-heavy.

  • Lorenzo With only 7000 volunteers in the field with no financial or other resources to use the Peace Corps pales in comparison to what other agencies, groups, NGOs, and private business do to develop economies in a world of 7 billion people. And do not discount what business does to develop countries. We have all witnessed the amazing development of the world’s largest “poor” country, China, into an economic power house. This was accomplished by business, in this case led by export businesses, not by development assistance.

  • Leo- Thanks for the rebuttal. We disagree about the chicken and the egg of development but agree on the need to sustain the Peace Corps. In other posts, you have voiced concerns about expenses. Cut D.C. staff and use that money for volunteers in the field. Make the organization more lean and mean.

  • Of course the Peace Corps is aligned with US national interests. Would it even exist if it were against them?
    Perhaps there is a short-term, long-term problem here – what seems to make sense in the short term, see Stan Meisler’s examples, may run counter to this country’s fundamental goals and long-term national interests.
    Kristina Engstrom

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