by: Valerie Elverton-Dixon on May 2nd, 2012 | 1 Comment »
I say and say again that President Obama is a just peace president.
Peace people, including myself, have a list of complaints against this president, including the use of targeted drone assassinations of American citizens without due process of law. However, I still say that, for the most part, this president’s foreign policies reflect just peace theory.
Many people are familiar with just war theory. This thinking dates back millennia, and we can find it in both religious and in secular philosophical traditions. There was a moment in human history when it was the middle way between crusades, or total annihilation of populations and pacifism. Today, since total war is no longer considered moral, just war is the extreme position and just peace theory is the middle way between just war and pacifism.
While just war theory thinks about when it is right to resort to war – jus ad bellum; the righteous way to fight war – jus in bello; and the moral way to end war – jus post bellum, just peace theory thinks about how to prevent the moment of crisis that makes violent conflict thinkable or even necessary. Just peace theory also considers ways to reach a positive peace after violent conflict, a peace where combatants no long want to fight each other. Just peace theory sometimes intersects with both pacifism and with just war theory.
In his remarks on Afghanistan, President Obama indicated a just peace approach that intersects with jus post bellum. My interpretation of just peace theory relies on three pillars – truth, respect and security. In his statements earlier in the day to the American warriors, President Obama told them the truth that there are still very difficult days ahead where some will be wounded. Some will die. In his remarks to the nation, he outlined efforts that will help secure Afghanistan, and will work toward building a strong civil society with democratic institutions that will respect human dignity and human rights.
I do not expect the just peace portions of President Obama’s remarks to receive much attention from journalists, most of whom work from a war journalism paradigm. There is another journalistic approach. Peace journalism. Rather than focus on violence, the numbers of warriors who will be deployed and for how long and at what cost in blood and treasure and whether or not the Afghan army and security forces will be ready to assume their responsibilities by the time America’s warriors are scheduled to come home, peace journalism looks at nonviolent efforts in peacemaking and maintenance.
President Obama spoke of five steps in ending the War in Afghanistan: First, Afghan forces will take the lead in providing Afghan security. Second, training of Afghan security forces will continue. Third, the U.S. commits to work with Afghans to fight terrorism and to “strengthen democratic institutions.” Fourth, peace negotiations with the Taliban will go forward. Fifth, the U.S. will work to forge global consensus for a plan to stabilize the whole of South Asia.
All of these steps are just peace principles. The first two steps concentrate on security. This is where war journalism begins and ends. The next three steps will be the steps that will very likely determine whether or not the Afghan war will end without leaving a dangerous smoldering situation that can flare back into war with little provocation.
When President Obama surged warriors into Afghanistan in 2010, he also surged peace workers to work with ordinary Afghans in local communities. In June 2011, the Majority Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report – “Evaluating U.S. Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan.” The report identified programs that are working well and those that still face challenges.
The National Solidarity Program is a grassroots program with “strong participation and ownership from local communities” (26). In this program community development councils manage small projects. The people are trained to take a project from conception to completion. Because they are so intimately involved with the planning and execution of projects they want, they protect them from the Taliban.
According to the report: “the program currently reaches 23,000villages, covering 351 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts in all 34 provinces” (26). These projects help to strengthen civil society and are an important element of stabilization. The report says there is room for improvement, but on the whole it is working well.
Another program that is working well is the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS). This program started during the Bush Administration in 2003 and it has helped to unify Afghanistan’s heath system. National health coverage rates have gone up from 9 per cent in 2003 to 85 per cent in 2008.
This peace work is taking place at the local level because policymakers understand that a strong central government is not consistent with the character of Afghanistan’s traditions of governance. These are the efforts that will continue long past the majority of American warriors leave in 2014.
Further, when President Obama speaks about “a global consensus to support peace and stability in South Asia”, he is building upon international cooperative efforts that already exist on the ground. Many nations contribute to Afghanistan’s development through the World Bank. He is talking about economic security and efforts toward peace both within and between India and Pakistan.
Taking a regional approach to peace and stability, working with the international community without the useless arrogant bluster of an America is boss attitude reflects a just peace means to a just peace goal of sustenance and joy for ALL the world’s peoples.