Tom Friedman Cites the Peace Corps as our Fifth Service

Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Klaus Heimburg (Ethiopia 2012-14)

We Need a High Wall With a Big Gate
With Trump using immigration simply for political gain, Democrats need to be the adults and offer a realistic, comprehensive approach.
By Thomas L. Friedman
Opinion Columnist
Nov 27, 2018

LIMA, Peru — Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator from California, recently raised eyebrows when she asked Ronald Vitiello, President Trump’s nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whether he appreciated the “perception” that ICE spreads “fear and intimidation” among immigrants the way the Ku Klux Klan did among blacks.

Harris carefully worded her question around the “perception” of ICE — and it was raised in part because Vitiello had once shamefully tweeted that Democrats were “the NeoKlanist party.” Nevertheless, with Harris a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, Republican media pounced on her with variations of: “Hey voters, get this: Democrats think the ICE officers protecting you from illegal immigrants are like the K.K.K. You gonna vote for that?”

ICE does seem to have a bad culture, but it is not the K.K.K. At the same time, I don’t think the Democratic Party is just for open borders. Alas, though, I’m also not sure what exactly is the party’s standard on immigration — and questions like Harris’s leave it open to demonization.

Since Republicans have completely caved to Trump’s craven exploitation of immigration as a wedge issue, the country, as usual, needs the Democrats to be the adults and put forward a realistic, comprehensive approach to immigration, which now requires two parts.

The first is a way to think about the border and the second is a way to think about all the issues beyond the border — issues that are pushing migrants our way. You cannot think seriously about the first without thinking seriously about the second, and if you don’t, this week’s scenes of Customs and Border Protection officers firing tear gas to keep out desperate migrants near Tijuana will get a lot worse.

Regarding the border, the right place for Democrats to be is for a high wall with a big gate.

Central American migrants at the border fence in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sunday.

Democrats won’t do as well as they can nationally without assuring Americans that they’re committed to securing our borders; people can’t just walk in. But the country won’t do as well as it can in the 21st century unless it remains committed to a very generous legal immigration policy — and a realistic pathway to citizenship for illegals already here — to attract both high-energy, low-skilled workers and high-I.Q. risk takers.

They have been the renewable energy source of the American dream — and our secret advantage over China.

But thinking beyond the border is where Democrats can really distinguish themselves; it’s where Trump has been recklessly AWOL.

This is how we got to where we are today: During the 19th and 20th centuries, the world shifted from being governed by large empires in many regions to being governed by independent nation-states. And the 50 years after World War II were a great time to be a weak little nation-state.

Why? Because there were two superpowers competing for your affection by throwing foreign aid at you, building your army, buying your cheap goods and educating your college students; climate change was moderate; populations were still under control in the developing world; no one had a cellphone to easily organize movements against your government; and China was not in the World Trade Organization, so everyone could be in textiles and other low-wage industries.

All of that switched in the early 21st century: Climate-driven extreme weather — floods, droughts, heat and cold — on top of man-made deforestation began to hammer many countries, especially their small-scale farmers. This happened right as developing-world populations exploded. Africa went from 140 million in 1900 to one billion in 2010 to a projected 2.5 billion by 2050.

Syria grew from three million people in 1950 to over 22 million today, which, along with droughts, totally stressed its water resources. Guatemala, the main source of the migrant caravan heading our way, has been ravaged by deforestation thanks to illegal logging, farmers cutting trees for firewood and drug traffickers creating landing strips and smuggling trails.

A satellite map just released by University of Cincinnati geography researchers demonstrated that nearly a quarter of the earth’s habitable surface changed between just 1992 and 2015, primarily from forests to agriculture, from grasslands to deserts and from wetlands to urban concrete.

Meanwhile, the internet has enabled citizens to easily compare their living standards with those in Paris or Phoenix — and find a human trafficker to take them there. Also, China joined the W.T.O., dominating low-wage industries, and the end of the Cold War meant no superpower wanted to touch your country, because all it would win was a bill.

So it’s now much harder to be an average little country. The most frail of them are hemorrhaging people, like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan and most every nation in sub-Saharan Africa. Others — Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya — have just fractured.

Together, they’re creating vast zones of disorder, and many people want to get out of them into any zone of order, particularly America or Europe, triggering nationalist-populist backlashes.

But not only. I was in Argentina last month and am in Peru now; in both countries I found people worried about the refugee flows from Venezuela. Peru has taken in 600,000, and it’s beginning to stir resentment here among lower socio-economic classes.

The BBC reported in August: “Tens of thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing their country amid chronic shortages of food and medicines. The country’s longstanding economic crisis has seen more than two million citizens leave since 2014, causing regional tensions as neighboring countries struggle to accommodate them.”

The story added, “The UN — whose migration agency has warned that the continent faces a refugee ‘crisis moment’ similar to that seen in the Mediterranean in 2015 — is setting up a special team to co-ordinate the regional response. … More than half a million Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador this year alone and more than a million have entered Colombia in the past 15 months.”

There are now more climate refugees, economic migrants searching for work and political refugees just searching for order than at any point since World War II, nearly 70 million people according to the International Rescue Committee, and 135 million more in need of humanitarian aid.

A responsible presidential candidate in 2020 needs a policy that rationally manages the flow of immigrants into our country and offers a strategy to help stabilize the world of disorder through climate change mitigation, birth control diffusion, reforestation, governance assistance and support for small-scale farmers.

This is our biggest geopolitical problem today. Forget the “Space Corps”; I’d make the “Peace Corps” our fifth service. We should have an Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Peace Corps, to send Americans to help stabilize small farms and governance in the world of disorder.

And this has to be a global project, with the U.S., Europe, India, Korea, China, Russia, Japan all contributing. Otherwise the world of order is going to be increasingly challenged by refugees from the world of disorder, and all rational discussions of

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award.



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  • Friedman’s thesis (see last paragraph) sounds very much like the earliest proposals to internationalize the Peace Corps, together with the VSO, CUSO, and other volunteer organizations, and combine under the management of the UN. The first time I heard the idea was amongst serving PCVs in Ghana, in 1963.

    I also would underscore Friedman’s implication about out-of-control population growth in the still-developing (forever developing ?) countries. The first time I heard learned worries about this, also was back in 1963. Population beyond the carrying capacity of the resource base, is permanent destabilization and disorder. Short of massive out-migration, wave following wave, there’s no way to escape it. John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment, 1963, ’64, ’65.

    • Toward the end of my career (working life!!!), I was a UN Volunteer in Liberia during a part of the civil war there. Shortly after being evacuated due to the spread of violence to the capital, I was hired by the UNV HQ to be the Program Manage of their program in Cambodia, very much like a Peace Corps Country Director. Possibly one of the less well-known parts of the UN, the UN Volunteer Program (actually a part of UNDP) enables citizens of UN member countries to serve as a volunteer in another UN member country. At one point during my 3 1/2 years in this role, I was responsible for a program with a peak of 143 UNVs. For me this was a great way to close out my working life. Volunteers working side by side with Cambodians and citizens of dozens of countries — Asians, Africans, Europeans, North and South American — over the course of the 3 1/2 years, you name it we had it.

  • If the Peace Corps was placed under the Defense Department instead of the State Department, it implies that the agency could be involved in activities to “safeguard the homeland” rather than as a means of unarmed diplomacy. I assume that the Peace Corps Director would be seated with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at all White House related decisions.

  • I have read this three times. It makes no sense. Thomas L. Friedman is a respected analyst, but he seems ignorant of the most basic facts. Actually HOW is his “Fifth Force” of Peace Corps Volunteers (See below what Peace Corps has done already in Guatalmala since 1962) and Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps going to “to help stabilize small farms and governance”???? and at whose request? Does Friedman have any knowledge of how US military intervention in Central America is viewed? Has any government in Central America asked for a US”Fifth Force”?

    US Military is a combat ready force, it is not trained to do “nation building”. There are two incredible exemptions. The US Military and its Allies defeated Japan and Germany on WWII and obtained a total surrender. Then, the military became an army of occupation in West Germany and Japan. It created and imposed a democratic government on both countries and build strong economies. The US Military has not duplicated that feat. Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, are examples of what happens when military intervention is somehow used as a tool of “national building”.

    Read what Peace Corps Guatalmala has been doing for over 50 years:

    “The first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Guatemala in 1963. Since then, more than 4,864 Volunteers have served in the country, providing assistance to rural families in cooperation with governmental and nongovernmental organizations. During an average year, approximately 100 Volunteers serve in Guatemala working with public and private institutions in health, youth, and food security program areas.

    Pre-service training (PST) takes place in Santa Lucía Milpas Altas, Sacatepéquez, where the Peace Corps office is located. All volunteers receive 10 weeks of initial language, technical, cross-cultural, and health and safety training before beginning two years of service and receive an additional 4 weeks of in-service training during the course of their assignments. Some volunteers also receive special training in Mayan languages.”

    Here is another perspective on the effectiveness of U.S. Aid in Guatemala:

  • I hope nobody was inferring that by my earlier comment I was endorsing Friedman’s idea that something like the Peace Corps should be somehow integrated with the military, as a fifth branch. The journalist, interestingly neglected to mention the OTHER uniformed services for which such integration might make more sense: The Coast Guard, The Public Health Service, and one might add, the National Guard, which is more about disaster response than shooting at anybody.

    It was ominous, that just this week the Peace Corps Agency itself published an essay, by a former PCV (Philippines) who subsequently had enlisted in the US Navy, not sailing around in a ship, but in the overtly combat Navy Seals — and somehow saw a lot of similarity of the two ! ! Evidently PC leadership did, too. Playing soccer with Afghan youngsters hardly compensates for the rest of the time killing Afghan adults, in their own country, to effect regime permanence, or whatever the goal is. I’m sure the timing of this essay was calculated, but the reason escapes me.

    It’s been a long time since we heard much about the early principle of “Independence of the Peace Corps”. And in the beginning, that meant independence of what was called “The foreign policy establishment”. It was only a matter of time before the State Dept would effectively assert control of PC Agency policy-making, finally subordinating it to establishment thinking. But, nobody imagined an integration with military combat operations ! Perhaps we can prevail upon Mr Friedman to think a bit more deeply. And ask the current PC leadership what they’re imagining for the future. John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment.

  • Lawrence, John and all.

    There is so much history behind your comments, with which I am in total agreement. First, Peace Corps Online in the early 2000s, reported on the legislation which would have allowed military service men to complete their service obligation by servving in the Peace Corps. That legislation was finally defeated. There was a vigorous discussion about that legislation.
    Here is the Link:

    The NPCA and RPCVs all over lauched a campaign about this possibility. A Christmas present was deliverd to the Peace Corps community on December 23, 2005, when the Senate, on a voice vote, took that provision out of the Defense appropriateion bill. Here is the link to the NPCs letter:

    Finally, one RPCV, Bob Paul, affectionally known as Snowshoe Bob, was a member of the activated Oregon National Guard and served in Iraq. He strongly supported the legislation and thought that soldiers with skills could work with “civic affairs” units. Tragically, Shoeshoe Bob was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. The story of the civic affairs unit with which Bob was associated in Iraq was chronicled in the book, “Waging Peace” by Rob Schultheis. …a good read.

  • Being keenly familiar with the military system of active duty – active reserve – inactive reserve, and also having completed my own reserve obligation in a National Guard unit, I also supported (with reasonable scrutiny by PC recruiters and selection staff), the same legislation that Bob Paul had.

    I think there was a dramatic change in WHO actually was in the military, and attitudes, after Vietnam, when the Pentagon, traumatized by a war it actually had opposed in principle, convinced the Gov’t to abandon the draft (and at the same time abandon the “Citizens’ Army” of George Washington and the Founding Fathers) and opt for their AVF — the All Volunteer Force. In doing so, the Gov’t also abandoned that near-sacred principle of the Founding Fathers: The relationship between the citizenry, and the military. ‘Way too much democracy, and opinion, in the new age of “elective wars”, motivated more by establishment and corporate interests and scheming than any actual defence of the Nation. “Purpose” — A criical distinction for a citizen-soldier asked to put his life on the line. Something the Gov’t and Foreign Policy Establishment seemed unable to grasp.

    Along with 58,000 GIs, and a million Vietnamese, a lot of hallowed American principles, died in the rice paddies of Vietnam. And as I wrote earlier, I don’t think this country ever was the same afterward. Back before the AVF, with the citizen-soldiers (like ME), there was a LOT of exemplary PCV material amongst them. I don’t doubt Bob Paul was thinking of that, too.

    John Turnbull (Sp4 E-4, HHD 515th Maint Bn, NMARNG) I have some stories to tell about that, when it came to the domestic war-protests, and we were activated, to shoot at our own guys, and gals, and priests and ministers we all knew. How the country survived it, I don’t know.

    • John,

      Thank you very much for your insight, based on your experience which I cannot begin to understand,
      Let me share, however, why I don’t support that old proposed legislation. Bob Paul served in the Peace Corps in Kenya and after he completed his PC service, he joined the National Guard, which then was activated after 9/11. He was on active duty and stationed at the Monterrey Language School, learning some language. When he was supporting the legislation via his comments on the PCLive blog, I don’t recall he made it clear he was on active duty until the debate was really over.

      Here are the problems I see:
      1) There is civilian control of the military. Soldiers who were completing their service obligation may have been listed as inactive, but they still would have been subject to military command; they would not have been free to simply leave PC. Volunteers are subject only to civilian control; they are free to simply walk away for whatever reason, That sets up incompatible management structure, to me, as well as compromising the independence of the Peace Corps.

      2) The above would set up confusion on exactly what the role of a soldier/Volunteer would have been. This, I think, would have caused real problems between Volunteers and also for Host Country Nationals.

      3) The draft was awful, undemocratic and unfair. Men could be drafted at 18 and could not vote until they were 21. For many soldiers, that was far too late. It was the 26th amendment ratified in 1971 which gave 18 year olds the right to vote, which stopped the draft, in my opinion. Nixon “retired” Hersey from manning the Selective Service, and Congress instituted the lottery system. I think politicans counted heads, the baby boomer generation was the largest in our history in that time. When the “draft age” men could vote , they, their parents and everyone else who voted in 1972, gave Nixon a landslide victory.

  • I oppos linking Peace (Corps) and War (whatever). Simple. Not just me. Sophistry dilutes the edges. Gotta carry through

  • Joanne, I think you’re making one BIG oversight, and that is that what had been proposed is not that a different management structure would manage those PCVs’ service in his/her PC role. The military always has had the ability to simply delete or eliminate essentially passive reserve obligations. For instance, a lot of reservists are “medical-out”, simply for some civilian injury or something as simple as gaining too much weight, and failing a physical exam. I think all this talk about mexhing PC service with military service, or war-making, is incorrect.

    Back in the early days of the 1960s, the military draft was called “Selective Service”, and eligibility was universal for virtually every male that passed the physical exam. Service could be “deferred” for things like college enrollment, or medical limitations (e.g. D Trump’s alleged bone spurs). In the era after Korea, and before the idea of “elective wars” really took off, virtually NONE of these former soldiers actually were in any combat situation, nor expecting to be recalled. In my own original Ghana PC group, +25% had prior military service. Some probably still had INactive reserve obligations, but with universal eligibility and NO wars, few if any on INactive status were ever recalled.

    The legislation we’re talking about would have allowed the Pentagon to simply forgive and discharge remaining years of reserve obligation for years served in the Peace Corps. There was NO military meddling whatever, in those volunteers’ PC service, nor the thought of it. It was, if anything, a gesture to the Peace Corps itself — not the military.

    I think RPCVs of the time ere seriously misled by then NPCA director Kevin Q. Q. Quigley, who obfuscated and misconstrued the intent of the original principle of “Independence of the Peace Corps”, with his “Not Our Corps” campaign against Congr Kline’s (and John McCain’s) legislation about discharging reserve obligations. Being a Washington insider, ever-keen on promotions and agency-hopping, Mr Quigley no doubt wanted to keep the door open to cushy appointments over at the State Dept. Later on, almost predictably, Mr Quigley would call in his chips, with just such an appointment. That’s the way his “Not Our Corps” campaign struck me at the time. It was a grand distortion of the truth, and a sell-out.

    I don’t recall ANY concern voiced at the time of Peace Corps founding about the Military wanting to meddle in Peace Corps affairs, or volunteer assignments. As for the worries about CIA meddling, that was a totally different matter — and real. No PC Group was more aware of that than mine, with all of the Soviet geologists and geophysicists working in the same Ghana Geological Survey.

    I would agree with yours and Edward’s categorical statement about war.

    I was also, reading your referenced discussion from 2005, noting that neither Bob Paul, nor “MajorOz” both former PCVs saw the slightest moral problem with being involved (in whatever capacity) with ‘elective wars” which were causing the deaths of thousands, and continue to do so to this day. “Jus’ doin’ my duty, and besides it wasn’t me what pulled the trigger and blew them all away.” You don’t have to be the trigger man to be an accomplice. In iraq, where they both served, neither said a thing about the “purpose” they were a part of.

    There never was, in fact, the slightest humanitarian justification for the Iraq invasion. From start to finish, it was a clever stunt to recover the oil fields that Saddam Hussein had nationalized, and put back in the hands of the six major oil companies. They “was jus’ doin’ their duty”. This excuse was amply addressed at the post WW-2 Nuremburg Trials, and the excuse-makers all went to the gallows. Something to think about, when it comes to complicity. John Turnbull

  • Joanne, I fail to see the threat that the DoD discharging a passive INactive reserve obligation somehow puts them in a position to influence PC decisions. Should we similarly see DoD meddling in the policies of universities which took GI Bill tuition assistance, or states which provide a break in property tax or driver licence fees to veterans, somehow implicating those states in wars ? Perhaps the subject legislation might have better provided the same reserve obligation reduction for ANY subsequent voluneering, AmericCorps, SeniorCorps, YCC, TEA, & all, and not just the Peace Corps alone.

    I would definitely be curious about your statement about today’s Trump Admin wanting to link DoD with the PC. What have they said ?

    I know that from time to time such things, not passive but very active, have been suggested by various Senators, rationalized variously, and totally missing the implications, incl the probable disinviting of PCVs from most countries of service. It does tend to answer my earlier wondering about this week’s publishing by the PC Agency of an essay by a PCV who subsequently enlisted in the Navy Seals, and didn’t see any inconsistency in the two. As I said, the publishing had to have been calculated, and approved at the top. John Turnbull

    • John,

      RE: This statement: ” I would definitely be curious about your statement about today’s Trump Admin wanting to link DoD with the PC. What have they said ?” We have been commenting on two different issues in this thread. I never wrote anything like that.

      1) Thomas L. Friedman wrote the article suggesting a Fifth Force – composed, as far as I can tell, of Peace Corps and ARmy, Air Force, Marines, and Navy. The DoD had nothing to do with Friedman’s article. I certainly have read nothing about the DoD and Friedman’s idea. I also did not post anything to suggest DoD involvement.

      2) The second topic which we have been discussing and which I did introduce was about legislation from 2003-2005 in which Congress wanted men who signed up for military service to be able to complete their obligaton by serving in the Peace Corps or Americorp. That obligation was eliminated. I was glad and really opposed the idea.

      I hope this clears up the misunderstanding. I am sorry if I was confusing.

  • Joanne, I have since examined the circumstances surrounding the death of Ssg Robert Paul, ostensibly a member of a unit of the Oregon National Guard, which had been mobilized for service in Iraq.

    The mobilization isn’t exceptional, but what IS, is the length of time. No such deployment of any enlisted man would be more than 12 months. Then they would be rotated back to essentially civilian life, as a member of the National Guard. The fact that he spent a year in iraq, then came home and suddenly was enrolled in the US Army Language School in Monterey, CA, THEN, remobilized for service in Afghanistan (where he tragically was killed). It suggests to me that he had changed his enlistment status, and had enlisted in the active-duty US Army, or within the structure of the National Guard, done so.

    This would have been very much a conscious decision and choice by him, not the Army or the Oregon National Guard. By that year, what the iraq War was really all about, would almost certainly be known to him, and likewise the paradoxical, unexplainable mission in Afghanistan, killing Afghans in their own villages. Ironically, that was how, 41 years before, the Vietnam War was characterized. John Turnbull

    • John,

      Bob Paul was killed in Afghanistan in 2006, so he is not able to respond to your comments. i think that is important to remember and not make assumptions about his service. I think we should honor his memory.

      Also when Bob Paul was stationed in Iraq, it was in a noncombat role. He was a member of a civic action unit. They worked with communities which had suffered during the war and the goal was to help them recover. This was during the relatively peaceful interval 2004-2006 and is chronicled in the book, “Waging Peace.” I would recommend you read it.

  • Mr. Friedman’s suggestion is a poor one. If the discussion is about improving the mission of the Peace Corps, I did learn something from my son’s recent volunteer experience in Panama: improved technology (telephone and computer) can aid volunteers. Where we were once isolated and alone, now volunteers can communicate freely across the world. My son used that to ask me about planning a ballfield. He also used it to communicate with his mother (a teacher) to ask questions about classroom management and lesson planning (he was an English teacher). I suggest that the Peace Corps partner with matching skills and more experience to answer volunteer’s question in the field. Individuals back home including the Crisis Corps could be on-call. Those responding would also volunteer their time. This would be a vast improvement and would have no cost.

    • I think this is a good suggestion. My personal opinion is Peace Corps carefully controls all information about Volunteers and probably would not risk letting RPCVs give information because it might be contrary to current policy. I could be wrong. Certainly, the books you have published, Peace Corps Chronology and Peace Corps Bibliography, Lawrence, should be in the hands of every serving Volunteer.

      There is a facebook group, Women of the Peace Corps, which has both woman RPCV and serving Volunteers as members. There is a constant exchange of information and it is really great to read. Members use the personal message option to send materials and more specific advice. Given that I am an “aging” RPCV, I really don’t have much to offer except encouragement. But, I have learned alot.

  • Quotes from a book that guided me since age my late 20’s*,
    THE LITTLE LOCKSMITH (1942, 1943 Coward-McCann, Inc, New York) by Katharine Butler Hathaway: “In order to save one’s life, as has been said, one must be willing to let it be tossed away, and not many of us are willing. All well-brought up people are afraid of having any experience which seems to them uncharacteristic of themselves as they imagine themselves to be. Yet this is the only kind of experience that is really alive and can lead them anywhere worth going.”
    On page 235 Katharine says “If this Dark Age now covering half the earth is destined to engulf all continents and all people for centuries to come, the next dawn that breaks upon the ruin of today’s world will surely begin to shine with a tender clear light at the moment when some future wanderer lifts up his head and sees something as if for the first time and pauses to admire, then feels in his breast a kindling fire and wonder and then …. We have lost that sequence, as all spoiled people lost it….Preliminary things are told, the rest is waiting….But the probability of my being free to return to my story in the spring is less certain than the probability was then of my being free….except an unusually late snowstorm and a prolonged mud season….”
    *and I’m now in my early 80’s © Copyright Edward Mycue 2-XII-2018

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