Dangerous poor people

Susan Rice, Obama’s pick for ambassador to the United Nations (a cabinet-level post once more) recently wrote an appalling and, frankly, stupid as fuck poorly-worded (OK, I was in a really bad mood when I first wrote this -Ed) post about global poverty at UN Dispatch.

The following captures Rice’s point:

When Americans see televised images of bone-thin African or Asian kids with distended bellies, what do we think? We think of helping. For all the right reasons, our humanitarian instincts tend to take over. But when we look at UNICEF footage or a Save the Children solicitation, does it also occur to us that we are seeing a symptom of a threat that could destroy our way of life? Rarely. In fact, global poverty is far more than solely a humanitarian concern. In real ways, over the long term, it can threaten U.S. national security.

Poor people –they’re dangerous! Every famine victim or AIDS orphan is, in Rice’s cynical realist mind, a potential terrorist. Or some other latent threat to everyone’s perennially paramount concern, U.S. national security.

Americans, being the inherently kind, generous, selfless people they are, see starving children and think, “I should sponsor one of those poor Third World babies!”   But this reaction, though sweetly typical, is naive. Americans, ever ready to open their hearts and wallets for the beleaguered Third World Masses, don’t see the danger Susan Rice sees.

Today, grinding poverty is the lot of half of the world’s population. Three billion human beings subsist on less than $2 per day — $730 per year — the equivalent of seven pairs of quality sneakers in the United States. Efforts to illuminate the complex relationship between poverty and insecurity may be unwelcome to those who want assurance that global poverty and U.S. national security are unrelated. Yet, we ignore or obscure the implications of global poverty for global security at our peril.

Three billion human beings. That’s three billion human-shaped potential threats to the United States!

Look, I am absolutely for working to alleviate the lethal poverty that so much of humankind lives in, but poverty reduction –and development generally– should never, ever be framed or approached as a security measure.

Motivations matter, and if development is approached as a way of reducing threats to U.S. national security, it’s going to involve military means. It’s going to be directed at the people deemed most threatening, not most in need. It’s not going to involve any readjustments to the institutions of the global economy, which so favor rich countries and their citizens over poor countries and theirs. Nor will it involve working in cooperation with the poor, because, after all, poor people are known to harbor irrational, menacing ideas about all sorts of things, including why they’re poor in the first place and how that can be changed.

It’s going to be horribly depressing to see the language of development usurped and perverted by the foreign policy right of the Obama Administration in the same way the language of the human rights movement was by the Bush Administration’s war cheerleaders prior to the invasion of Iraq.

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3 thoughts on “Dangerous poor people

  1. Pingback: In defense of Susan Rice « mireille + mischa

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