Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, promoted national service initiatives and expansion of international programs during a speech last month in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We’re going to grow our Foreign Service, open consulates that have been shuttered and double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011 to renew our diplomacy,” Obama told the Colorado audience.
“We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded,” he said.
Just five days later, the July 7 issue of Defense News published an interview in which Obama elaborated on his goals.
“I believe we can reconfigure our civilian national-security force. We still have a national security apparatus on the civilian side, in the way the State Department is structured and USAID, that harkens back to the Cold War,” Obama said.
“We need to be able to deploy teams that combine agricultural specialists and engineers and linguists and cultural specialists who are prepared to go into some of the most dangerous areas alongside our military,” he said.
Such proposals sound either like the creation of new programs or the expansion of existing ones, said Brian Darling, director of Senate Relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“He clearly leans toward the diplomacy side in world affairs,” Darling told CNSNews.com. “Foreign aid, agriculture aid, using federal tax dollars to buy a country’s affections is one element of diplomacy. But I hope he realizes that having a strong military is another form of diplomacy.”
A similar theme was repeated when Obama gave a speech entitled “A World that Stands as One” in front of 200,000 Germans in Berlin.
Obama called himself a “citizen of the world,” and said, “The burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden.
“In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more – not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity,” he added.
The Obama campaign did not respond to phone and e-mail messages Monday.
Specifically, Obama’s national service plan addresses foreign and domestic issues.
He favors expanding AmeriCorps from 75,000 slots to 250,000 slots, geared at tackling issues such as education, energy and health care. He would double the size of the Peace Corps to 16,000 and would send Americans fluent in foreign language abroad to “expand diplomacy.”
Under the plan, all middle and high school students would be required to do 50 hours of community service, and it would establish a $4,000 per year tax credit for college students who volunteer for 100 hours of volunteer service.
“The American people are not the problem, they are the answer,” Obama told the Colorado audience.
Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has also talked about a national service initiative if elected though not in such detail. McCain has praised national service goals as patriotic and said the public and private sector can work to establish ways for young people to volunteer.
“Voluntary national service has grown in popularity in part because of the educational benefits used as incentives, as well as frequent appeals from the bully pulpit of the White House, but mostly because the young Americans, no less than earlier generations, understand that true happiness is much greater than the pursuit of pleasure, and can only be found by serving causes greater than self-interest,” McCain said in a May speech.
“A sense of community, a kinship of ideals, has invigorated public service again,” he said.
But such proposals have their critics.
It becomes “government mandated volunteering,” said Michael Tanner, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. He said if most of the projects were worthwhile, the private sector or government would already be directly involved
“It’s more about building the civic virtue of the people volunteering. It benefits the doers more than the receivers,” Tanner told CNSNews.com.
“It assumes the state has a claim on you and becomes political. Maryland’s service requirement for students recognizes organizing homeless people to vote as a plus, but not joining the NRA (National Rifle Association),” he said.
Taxpayers should be concerned about where the expansion of a “civilian national security force,” David Williams, vice president of policy for Citizens Against Government Waste.
“We need to beware. Who knows?” Williams told CNSNews.com. “This could become another AmeriCorps, or another No Child Left Behind. Programs are started and we’re saddled with them for years and years with no metrics to determine their performance or any other oversight or accounting.”