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Travel advisories for the next generation

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WASHINGTON — How does America’s global role affect the lives of individuals? Currently, momentous international policy decisions are being taken; they encompass war, peace, freedom and the projection of power. It is important to step back and develop a vision of the long-term outcome of those policies for individuals. Perhaps the history of St. Paul can provide us with some direction.

Ask the State Department for travel advice, and you will be referred to the “Travel Warnings” Web site. On it, you will find many admonitions of where not to go and what not to do. For example, Syrian travel should be deferred, since protesters there have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments. Those already there should consider a speedy departure.

For Algeria, nighttime and overland travel and even a walk down the streets of Algiers are nixed. For lesser hotbeds, the standard recommendations seem to include “exercise maximum caution and take prudent measures. Avoid crowds, demonstrations and areas where Americans generally congregate. Keep a low profile, blend in, and don’t show that you’re an American!”

Left unchallenged, this advice will probably still be provided 20 years from now. It’s the safe way to go, but to borrow an expression from my students, “it’s so 20th century.” Our policy planners need to have a vision of how our relationship with the world should be 20 years from now. Future generations should know that our policies, activities, efforts and expenditures were worth it.

A brief review of the life of St. Paul, also called the 13th apostle, may provide guidance and inspiration. Saul, as he was then known, was born about 2,000 years ago. He was a Jew and converted to Christianity. He was born in Tarsus, which made him a Roman citizen. He was an indefatigable traveler, an early globalist who wrote lots of letters.

He established churches in Asia Minor. He evangelized in Macedonia, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Malta. During his life and travels, he was often met with great hostility and persecution. The Roman emperor himself was none too pleased with Paul’s preaching and traveling. Christianity was not exactly popular in the reigning circles of the day.

What are the lessons here? St. Paul reached out to the world. His message was quite controversial, but it has survived quite well even until today. He was not popular for his message — but he got the word out. He was not hesitant to go to the far corners of the world of his day. In spite of all the controversy and hatred that he faced, the people he encountered abroad did not harm him. Even when he was a captive and, on orders from Rome, on his way to the eternal city, he was untouchable and treated with respect and hospitality because he was a Roman.

St. Paul’s circumstances can be our guide for a vision of the future. We are proud to be Americans and the world should know it. There are special conditions associated with American citizenship — and our policies should enhance rather than hide that fact.

Some of that “specialness” is beginning to be reflected in our international policies. For example, the two captured al-Qaeda fighters who are American citizens are treated differently from the others. Despicable as their actions may have been, they are not kept in Guantanamo, Cuba. Richard Colvin Reid is in Massachusetts, and John Walker Lindh is in Virginia. They will not face military tribunals, but rather the U.S. court process with all the legal and procedural safeguards accorded to all Americans.

This is how it should be! Another example comes from the government reaction to the kidnapping of U.S. citizens in the Philippines. In a policy reversal, the State Department has recently agreed to “make every effort” to gain the release of all Americans kidnapped overseas, even private citizens. That is good!

So where should we be in 20 years? By then, when requesting a travel advisory from the State Department, here is what I would like to hear: “As a traveler, you are advised to carry identification of being a U.S. citizen with you at all times. Wear an American flag pin to let everyone know that you are an American. This way, you will carry an umbrella of respect, safety and security. Remember, you represent your country. We wish you success in your travels.”

Some might think such a vision as perhaps lacking in humility. I see it as a worthwhile goal to strive for, as a translation of national effort into individual well being, and as an outcome that will truly help bring peace to the world. After all, if Americans are secure, others will be as well.