In just peace theory, three primary principles – truth, respect, security – stand as categories of both personal morality and public policy that can make for peace. October 21 is the UN Day of International Peace and Global Ceasefire. It is a day to rededicate ourselves to the goal of ending violent conflict in the world, both local and global.
This Peace Day comes as scorching drought-dry summer turns to a cool green autumn of an exhausting US presidential campaign. Mercifully, this will be over in a few weeks. The two major candidates work to persuade voters that their policies – foreign and domestic – are best for the nation and for the world. Political pundits work to analyze the policies and handicap the race. We see two very different approaches to foreign policy. In most instances, the pundits do not know how to analyze President Obama’s foreign policy because they do not know just peace theory.
We see a contestation between a 20th century Cold War, neo-conservative foreign policy of Mitt Romney and a 21st century just peace paradigm of President Obama.
Romney has falsely accused President Obama of apologizing for America. In his ill-advised and incorrect statements on September 12, an explanation of his September 11 statement in response to attacks on the US embassy in Cairo and the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, he returned to his claim that Obama is an apologist and an appeaser.
Fact checkers have said time and time again that this charge is false. However, what the president has done is to tell the truth about America’s actions in the world. He has treated other nations – their leaders and their people – with respect. He has encouraged the democratic aspirations of the people at the grassroots and insisted that democracy is a means to the end of establishing human rights and in turn human rights are a means to the end of a just and lasting peace. Truth and respect will lead to security, and at the same time, a confident leader of a strong and confident nation is secure enough to speak the truth with respect.
Let us be clear. We the People of the United States are brave enough, mature enough, and intelligent enough to know the truth of history and to hear it spoken out loud by our president. Truth-telling is not apologizing, but a peace based on justice may sometimes require an apology. Alan Geyer and Donald W. Shriver in chapter four of “Just Peacemaking:the new paradigm for the ethics of peace and war” write about truth-telling as necessary to peacemaking:
“This chapter proceeds on the assumption that acknowledgments of wrongdoing on all sides, empathy, forbearance from revenge, and overt hope for reconciliation are necessary practices of peacemaking” (100).
They write of a “realistic” approach to foreign affairs that says admissions of wrong-doing, let alone an apology, are unwise because they are a sign of weakness. This is a mistaken idea that the powerful are not bound by the morality of memory. This is not only bad ethics, but it is its own deception.
While the powerful nations may choose to forget and move on, those who suffered the injury have not forgotten. Moreover, the risk of deception and of the failure of memory is that we will repeat history, that we will fail to learn the lessons that history teaches, that we will commit the same acts that will lead to the same consequences.
Critics of President Obama who claim that he has apologized for America and shown weakness on the world stage cite his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo. In that speech he spoke the uncomfortable truth of US involvement in post WW II Iran:
“For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.”
Here President Obama is speaking to the young people in Iran. The old ayatollahs will soon go the way of all flesh and a new generation will take control. In the meantime, the president has organized the world to put stronger sanctions on Iran to encourage it to stop work on developing a nuclear weapon. This ought to be seen as a part of a global effort to bring the nuclear arsenal of all of humanity to zero.
Reducing offensive weapons and the weapons trade is a just peacemaking practice. President Obama wants to allow development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but not for nuclear weapons. He is working through the international community to make this happen. His is not a power-over “do what I tell you to do or I will beat you up. I double dog dare you to cross this line” approach. It is a power-with approach of working with other nations to reach a win-win compromise that will solve this and other difficult problems. Just peace comes when means and ends cohere. So, the president is working to get to just peace ends through just peace means.
Speaking of the US relationship with the Muslim world, President Obama said: “But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.”
This is not the moral principle that Mitt Romney practices. In a secret video of remarks Romney gave at a fund raiser in Boca Raton, FL in May, Romney said that he did not think a two-state solution would work to solve the Israel-Palestine problem. He said that Palestinians did not want peace, and that this was a problem the world would have to tolerate. He said that a former secretary of state had called him with an idea about solving the problem but that he did not delve into it. Romney has stated publically his support for a two-state solution.
This is duplicity.
In his Cairo speech, President Obama spoke of the Israel-Palestine problem. He spoke of the painful history of both sides, condemned terrorist violence, called for an end to the construction of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and advocated for a two-state solution. Obama’s critics have criticized his even-handedness, and since the speech, his resistance to the Palestinian attempt to declare its statehood through the UN has earned him disapprobation in the Muslim world.
Also since the speech, he has sided with the revolutionaries who brought an end to autocratic rule in Tunisia and Egypt, and he led the efforts in the UN Security Council to establish a no-fly zone over Libya through the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect. This led to the overthrow and to the death of Muammar Kaddafi. Since just peace is not a pacifistic paradigm, the way the international community worked together in that situation can be considered part of the just peace principle of providing security for vulnerable populations.
(We have yet to see how this will play out in Syria. My guess is that grassroots peacemakers will have to settle that conflict. The war journalism that only speaks to men with guns has not reported on whether or not there are peace efforts happening on the ground in Syria.)
When we see protestors in the street burning the American flag, when we see governments protecting our diplomatic outposts with gunshots and tear gas, it is easy to look into the flames and the smoke and see American weakness. This would be a mistake. Free people are free to protest. They are free to protest against the United States and vent their anger for our support of the dictators who controlled their lives for so long. And President Obama is right to say that we will have to wait and see whether or not these democratically elected governments will be friend or foe. It is their choice to make.
Just peace theory respects the decisions that free people may make, even if their decisions do not look the way we want them to look. On this Peace Day 2012, we hold onto the faith that truth, respect and security will light the way to a brighter coming day when the guns are silent, the burning flags are only distant history, and angry mobs give way to a festival of sustenance and joy for every human of every tribe and every nation on the good green earth.