The U.S. economy is sputtering and the public may be tired of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but former congressman Mark Green says it would be a mistake to disengage abroad
That was the message that Green, who served as ambassador to Tanzania, delivered to a global issues class at Edgewood High School earlier today.
"I don’t want to see the United States -- because we are rightly focused on domestic issues and jobs -- get to a place where we start to withdraw from the world,” said Green. He represented Green Bay for six years in the Wisconsin state Assembly, served four terms in Congress and ran for governor in 2006.
Green, who traveled to both Iraq and Afghanistan when he was in Congress, said he supported both wars. In response to a student’s question on pullback in Afghanistan, he said the United States must remain strong and predictable.
“These are challenging times in a lot of ways that we'll understand more clearly looking back on them,” he said. “The day when our men and women can come home safely and successful is a great day.”
Green is now a senior director at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a broad-based network of 400 businesses and non-governmental organizations. It also includes national security and foreign policy experts, business, faith-based, academic and community leaders who support what he calls a “smart power” approach of elevating development and diplomacy alongside defense order to build a better, safer world.
Green – who lived in Africa as a boy and whose father is from South Africa – said he supports efforts to rebuild the American economy and create jobs. But he reminded his audience that 95 percent of the world’s population lives outside the U.S. borders.
“To grow our economy, we need to export,” he said, noting that the Chinese have made major inroads into Africa. He said that continent’s overall economy is growing at nearly 7 percent annually “and we aren’t the only ones who know it.”
Moreover, he added, the United States can be a force for good in the world.
“We need engagement,” said Green, who served on foreign policy committees in Congress. “I’m doing all I can to encourage that.”
While in Congress, he helped craft legislation aimed at combating malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS in developing countries. In addition, he played a lead role in passage of the Millennium Challenge Act, which seeks to reduce global poverty by promoting sustainable economic growth.
Green, who taught school in Kenya for a year after he finished law school, told the Edgewood students he got into politics by accident and only because he needed a job.
But he said he soon came to enjoy developing answers to problems. And he was flattered, he said, when the state senator for whom he worked asked him his opinion on how he should vote on a bill.
When he returned from Kenya, he was asked to help run former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s campaign for governor. The two became friends and Green is now supporting Thompson in his run for the U.S. Senate.
Green lamented the harshness of today’s political discourse, and said he was dismayed by attacks on Thompson by the national branch of the Club for Growth, which portrayed Thompson as a “big spender.”
Green scoffed at the notion that Thompson is too moderate to be elected in 2012 and touted the former governor’s record creating jobs in Wisconsin while reforming welfare and education.
Green also praised the Tea Party for engaging more taxpayers in politics. But he said he is “nostalgic” for the days when politicians could disagree and still be friends.
He declined to discuss efforts to recall Gov. Scott Walker. He also said he couldn’t comment on President Obama’s deficit reduction plan because he had not yet read it.
Green encouraged the students to consider careers in public service.
“We live in exciting times and the world is shrinking,” he said. “You can make a difference. You can accomplish anything you want to.”