What is less known about our former First Lady is how committed she was to international bridge-building and encouraging Americans to connect abroad.
During her tenure in the White House, she made three trips to
Afghanistan; traveled to Asia, Europe, Africa, all over the world
really. She is proud to have a passport -- and weighed in on key
international issues such as women's rights, educational development,
water and resource challenges in the developing world, global health.
She and her husband, George W. Bush, were champions in standing by and
increasing the levels of US government aid to Africa on HIV/AIDS.
Bush sees international engagement as vital to America's national
interests -- and I wish her voice were heard louder today in the House of
Representatives which seems to be increasingly isolationist and
disdainful of American support for struggling people and nations abroad. She
stands as a profound foil to the know-nothingness that seems to be
ascending in some wings of the GOP.
The US-Global Leadership Coalition
really ought to get Laura Bush to their annual gala next year and
challenge each Member of Congress -- particularly the ones who have not
traveled internationally -- to attend to hear her make the case for
supporting America's pretty meager aid and global assistance portfolio.
Bush, in her first speech on the international stage delivered in Paris at the OECD meeting in May 2002 -- she spoke to the importance of educating and inculcating young people with the values of tolerance.
That is a message that not only needed to be heard abroad, but it's a
theme more Americans need to hear at home. The growing network of Islamophobia
that the Center for American Progress recently documented indicates
that there are significant pockets of the country thus far immune to
what Laura Bush has encouraged.
I took the above photo in the home of the current Ambassador to the OECD, Karen Kornbluh, whose predecessor, former US Ambassador to the OECD Jeanne Phillips, hosted Mrs. Bush. The room, now named "The Laura Welch Bush Suite", was where I slept, proudly.
Now back to those Laura W. Bush Traveling Fellowships. Here's the overview:
The fellowship will help fund a proposal designed by the applicant to
conduct brief work in a foreign country related to the mandate of
UNESCO - using education, natural sciences, social and human sciences,
culture, and/or communication and information to build strong ties among
The fellowship is intended for American college/university students
who express an interest in international collaboration but as of yet had
not been afforded many opportunities to travel abroad.
The length of time for the travel is expected to be between 4 and 6
weeks and should include interaction with individuals from other
nations. During his/her travel, the recipient should be willing to
participate in public diplomacy events arranged with the pertinent U.S.
State Department Consulate, Mission, and/or Embassy.
I am hopeful that whether young applicants from the political right,
left, or middle apply that they will remind their family, co-workers,
and neighbors -- particularly out in towns and cities like Charleston,
West Virginia and Lubbock, Texas that Laura Bush stands both for
education and international engagement.
That would be a good thing for many isolationist-tilting Americans to consider.
Remember -- the new, extended deadline for application is September 26th.
(photo credits: top photo, Steve Clemons; Laura Bush in Africa, Reuters)