Monday, August 25, 2008

Peaceniks Forum: How will an Obama/Biden Administration Promote Peace in the World?

Note: This is the first of a two-part series centered around the major political party conventions taking place in the United States. This week the Democrats are up. Next week we'll pose the same question for the McCain ticket. We also are aware that we generally lean to the left here, but hope to give fair treatment to both campaigns.

With the Democratic Convention well underway, and Saturday's selection of Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate, we here at Practical Peaceniks thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at how an Obama/Biden administration will promote peace in the world. However, rather that just give you our opinion, we thought we would open the floor to our (growing number of) readers. Please feel free to have your say in the comments, and a few of our contributors might pitch in with more in-depth thoughts as the week progresses.

A few general comments to start us off:

Obama's foreign policy could probably best be summed up as pragmatic global engagement. As others have noted, the selection of Joe Biden for vice president reinforces that theme. This is a foreign policy that doesn't seem to fit neatly within traditional international relations constructs. Rather, the presidential responsibility to keep America safe is seen as one and the same with actively partnering with the rest of the world politically, economically, and socially. Ideological maxims are largely cast off in favor of doing what works, and Obama's foreign policy team reflects those aims. Also of note is that Obama doesn't buy into the old mantra that in order for Democrats to convince people they aren't weak in national security, they have to espouse an especially tough foreign policy. This is a refreshing turn of events worth noting.

Now, what are your thoughts?


Daniel said...

Ms. Aljets has been on me all day to post a message here, so why not? Full disclosure, I'm a dedicated Obama supporter who was pleased with the selection of Biden as VP.

Looking at them as a ticket, I'm particularly intrigued to (hopefully) see what kind of relationship they would have if elected. Besides coining "A noun, a verb, and 9/11," the most memorable impact Biden had on me during the primary was how aggressive he was in foreign affairs. He spoke of serious intervention in Darfur; U.S-led partition of Iraq; and how the US could have stopped Bosnia (I think he may have said "overnight" or some similar word). I don't think that this approach is necessarily at odds with an Obama foreign policy, and except for the partition plan in Iraq, I'm not in full disagreement with Biden's ideas (a shifty way of saying that I'm not entirely sure how I feel about those other points). Still, it's a striking contrast to at least the image of Obama's approach to foreign policy, stereotyped as gathering everyone around the table and talking it out.

If elected, Obama would be President and obviously would have final say. But by selecting Biden, he showed that he wants a useful VP by his side and probably would not ignore him. Or was this merely a pragmatic choice of a seasoned hand designed to calm voters' fears?

Atrobilius said...

I'll have to change "How will" to "How can." Otherwise, I'd have to explain things like how policy never shifts a whole lot from one administration to another. How talk and action are different things. Etc. How can an Obama/Biden administration promote peace? By prosecuting the Bush Doctrine better and more decisively than Bush did is my answer. Democracy-building and the prudent use of force when necessary come closer to producing peace than the alternatives. In truth, no one can promote peace, and why should they? As Ambrose Bierce defined it, peace, after all, is just a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

Anonymous said...

Who knows how and even whether an O/B administration would promote peace? Nothing they've said so far indicates a sincere practical interest in the matter. Being opposed to W and the old ways of doing things is nothing in itself. Frankly, most of the rest of the world hasn't the slightest interest in peace these days, and W and America didn't make 'em like they are. O/B will do what American administrations always do: try to be principled, decent, generous, and helpful. Whether they will be better at it, less naive, less incompetent, have better intelligence, etc., remains to be seen. Whether we're closer to "peace in the world" in four years has much less to do with O/B than it does with other peoples and governments. Apart from the foregoing, I agree with Atrobilius, whoever that might be.

Diana said...

My two cents as a Peacenik would be that the key to a good foreign policy is a respected standing in the international community. I was in China when Bush was elected to his first term and the concern expressed by the people I talked to at having Xiao Bush (literally 'little Bush') as president was overwhelming. What did they know that I didn't? Well, four years later I knew.

And again when Bush was running for re-election I was abroad, this time in Kazakhstan, and this time people were telling me that Bush is a war criminal. BBC, RIA Novosti, and other international news broadcastings were filled with images of anti-Bush demonstrations. How could we get anything done on the international stage with such a hated reputation?

An Obama/Biden presidency could restore this reputation. Already Obama has taken steps to bring the international community together. Now whether the international community will actually step up to the challenges Obama presented in Berlin I have no idea but I do want an administration that is willing to try to bring the world together.

Jaime Lotter said...

It is helpful to have other perspectives here, since the practical peaceniks often have similar sentiments about these issues. And the intention of this post was to incite discussion by others, and then we could join in. So now that there are several posts, there can be further discourse.

No, there is not necessarily any formal declaration from the Obama/Biden ticket that "peace is the way." I regret deeply Bierce's definition of peace as a period of cheating between two periods of fighting. If this were the case, then there would not be several schools for the study of conflict resolution or numerous organizations full of professionals working for peace. Those of us who believe that peace is much more than cheating believe whole heartedly that there is another way to operate that can work much more effectively at achieving our goals on the world stage than any sword drawn. But maybe that's another discussion altogether. The assumption in the overall question for this post is that you believe that promoting peace is the right way to go about our foreign policy.

We practical peaceniks work under that assumption. And so, back to how Obama/Biden will promote peace in the world. I believe that Obama understands fundamentally that the way we've been going about doing things on the world stage is not working. "The way" is the whole Iraq War, our moral imperative to promote our values in a very immoral way, and the rejection of cooperation and collaboration with any other nations except those who do what we want them to. Obama exemplified this when he went to Germany, where he said, "No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them. Yet, in the absence of Soviet tanks and a terrible wall, it has become easy to forget this truth. And if we’re honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny." He was speaking about world problems we are now facing with global warming and terrorism. He sees that if we try to solve these problems alone, nation vs. nation, we will fail. He went on, "So history reminds us that walls can be torn down. But the task is never easy. True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy; of progress and peace. They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other." This is the crucial point of how Obama will promote peace in the world: by promoting cooperation, sacrifice, shared burdens, and dialogue. This doesn't mean he will back down from making hard choices, and I am thankful that Obama has chosen Biden as a running mate, because while the economy and health care in this country are big issues, we still have many international issues to face in the coming years that will need a strong and well-informed leader to address. Biden provides that for the Obama administration.

None of this happens overnight, of course, and Obama will have a daunting task ahead of him to restore the broken relationships we have with the world. But he understand it's necessary, which makes all the difference to me.

Atrobilius said...

Jaime: Let me correct something: Bierce actually defined war as a period of fighting between two periods of cheating. I'm sorry if I offended your sensibilities. The real world, however, suggests that peace among nations and peoples is impossible and that the promotion of it as a value is an ineffectual (and, if fact, a highly contraeffectual) way of achieving it. At heart, most of us are pacifists and peaceniks. In life, there are times we cannot be.

I marvel at the extent to which the liberation of tyrannical regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq in the service of disrupting terror networks is regarded as warmongering. One could make a pretty good argument that these things are, in fact, peacemaking. If they are inexpertly done, they're not as good as they should be.

Conflict resolution, as an approach to peace, is not a silver bullet. There have been many silver bullets promoted over the past two hundred years: balance of power, world government, arms control, nonviolent resistance, international law, international norming, multilateralism, to name a few. None worked. Any government interested in peace would use as many approaches as there are. And, I think, we could even accuse the Bush administration of using most of them.