The U.S. policy of policing the world and imposing our will on every aspect of the international system is now tumbling–from Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, and onward throughout the Middle East. The domino theory, coined to justify our war in Vietnam, is making a comeback. Not because we ignored communist threats, but because we intervened too much in too many countries.

For years, most of these top-down governments accepted massive infusions of U.S. military aid. The “war on terror,” with its invasion, occupation, and ongoing carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan, has collapsed the balance of power by its own arrogant posturing.

Military Industrial HumorThese are the fruits of a weapons-based foreign policy that gives diplomatic solutions short shrift. We’ve created a new unilateralism over the past decade–the single superpower, encased in military might and clothed in the armor of permanent confrontation. We desperately need a foreign-language-competent, fully funded State Department Foreign Service corps to break out of these mental and political chains.

Resolving worldwide conflict requires an interdependence of interests and understanding. We need to make a national commitment to provide our next generation with access to live-in experiences in countries around the world. We need a reinvigorated Peace Corps that’s bigger than the Marine Corps.

R. Sargent Shriver and President Kennedy once envisioned a Peace Corps of some 100,000 dedicated young Americans. It never came close. We’ve only mustered an average of 4,000 service members per year in these past 50 years.

We need to prioritize funding for this. At about $400 million, the Peace Corps’ annual budget amounts to little more than what we spend on a single controversial F-22 Raptor fighter jet. Young U.S. citizens who sign up for the Peace Corps deserve sign-on bonuses as much as their compatriots who enlist in the armed services.

I’ve been amazed watching my daughter Bridget’s attempts to apply to the Peace Corps this year. The barriers to participation have ranged from requiring parents to sign a notarized letter making them responsible for all student loans to a mandate that could have required the extraction of all her wisdom teeth. We’ve spent more than $1,500 on dental and medical bills just to facilitate the application process.

The Peace Corps has become, unwittingly, an exclusive club with an opaque placement process. Bridget has studied in China and speaks Mandarin. But she’s been told that if accepted, she’ll probably serve somewhere in Latin America.

We can and must do so much better. The world needs our bright, ingenious young people. It can do without our domineering, profit-driven military firepower. Let’s begin the transition now. We can bring a halt to falling dominos by fully embracing democracy that serves the common good, at home and abroad. Ask not what your predominant country can do for you, but what you can do for the people of your country–and the planet.

You get what you pay for. Pray for peace. Pay for peace. Invest in a future without war.

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Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy is a leader of Blue Water Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization. A version of this commentary first appeared in the Port Huron (MI) Times Herald.

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