“Working with the private sector, the program will identify the barriers to investment and trade and entrepreneurialism in developing nations. In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.” Mitt Romney, Clinton Global Initiative, Sept. 25, 2012 “I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens. . . . .As a diplomat, he was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked, tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile." Barack Obama, United Nations, Sept. 25, 2012
Each excerpt represents an approach to foreign policy. Mitt Romney lays out the traditional American position of opening markets and removing obstacles to private investment in developing countries. This approach, which has been used by administrations of both parties, rewards compliant nations with aid packages meant to strengthen the institutions that capitalism requires. One new wrinkle is the emphasis on microfinance and entrepreneurship, which has a large following across the political spectrum and is also the policy of the World Bank.
The policy epitomized by the late Chris Stevens starts from a place of respect for the culture of others – walking their streets, tasting their food, speaking their language and, above all, listening to them.
Perhaps it is the difference between a Peace Corps volunteer and a missionary, but imposing our values hasn’t worked. It is time to understand theirs.