The Grand Presumption

by Doug Bennett

“President Obama’s policy toward Syria has failed, and it’s time to try a tougher approach.” Nicholas D. Kristof wrote those words in a column in the New York Times on August 28th. He went to urge that the U.S. arm those opposing President Assad, and launch missile strikes against the Syrian regime.

Kristof was hardly alone in urging military action when he wrote those words, and a good deal has changed since then. Kristof’s support of military action was striking because he seems like one of the least likely commentators to urge such a course. Most days and most situations, he would urge an approach grounded in dialogue, respect for human rights, and adherence to international agreements. But beyond the surprise of his hawkish urgings in this case, I want to focus on his judgment that U.S. foreign policy had “failed.”

By “failed,” I think Kristof means that we hadn’t gotten our way; our efforts did not produce the outcome we wanted. We hadn’t gotten the Assad regime to stop the violence against its own citizens.

That is an astonishing expectation: that the United States will always get its way in foreign relations. and if we do not, we should count the effort a failure. What anyone else wants doesn’t matter and doesn’t count. If we don’t get what we want, we fail.

Let us call this ‘the grand presumption.’

Continue reading

What Are Our Obligations Toward Syria? Are we exceptional or responsible?

by Doug Bennett

Syria by by Eric Barfoed

Syria by by Eric Barfoed

As Syria holds our attention, the biggest question for me, and I hope for you, is about the United States.  As the United States asserts that Syria’s President Assad has responsibilities to his own people, we should be asking what are our responsibilities to other countries?

Syrian President Assad used poison gas against citizens of his own country: that’s the charge. It is an unproven allegation that it was the Assad regime that used the gas. There has not been any public consideration of the evidence, and we all remember (don’t we?) that the allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq turned out be bogus.

The case for intervention is that there are limits to what a leader (whether a despot or democratically elected) can do towards his own people.  A leader has obligations and responsibilities, the argument goes, and other countries can and should enforce these responsibilities, once breached.  Use of poison gas is a crime against humanity, and no one should be allowed to do that.

Continue reading

Together we can overcome

by David Hartsough

David Hartsough

David Hartsough

In the early 1950’s, AFSC wrote and published Speak Truth to Power – a document which challenged the basic premise of the Cold War thinking – the “enemy” mentality. The Soviet Union represented all evil, and the US claimed to be the epitome of virtue and good. The pre-eminent belief was that military strength and threatening with nuclear weapons was the only way to deal with the Soviet Union.. The fear of Communism was so prevalent that it pitted neighbor against neighbor, and a rampant era of McCarthyism arose where the House Un-American Activities Committee considered those who questioned the US policyof 100% anti-communism and opposed the Cold War to be communist sympathizers. This approach was based on “us versus them” thinking, and continually led to war and nuclear confrontation. Speak Truth to Power provided a great impetus to Friends, and like-minded people across the nation, to rethink this mainstream way of viewing the world, and to re-consider and promote positive alternatives to this “Cold War” mentality.

Continue reading

Pacem in Terris: A case for Shared Security

Doug Bennett

“We are asked to equip ourselves with courage…” Doug Bennett at the Shared Security consultation at Pendle Hill

by Doug Bennett

Half a century ago, Pope John XXIII released the Encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).  He called not just for peace – a common enough hope – but for a fresh commitment to human community based in equal respect for all human beings.

In this powerful statement, you can find the groundwork of the vision of foreign policy we are calling Shared Security.  Quakers are hardly alone in calling for a foreign policy rooted in an understanding that all human lives are equally precious and equally deserving of protection.

In April 1963, prospects for world peace did not seem especially bright.  The Cold War was at its height: only six months before we had witnessed the scary showdown of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Vietnam War was beginning to heat up. At home in the U.S., Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders were in jail in Birmingham, Alabama.

Pope John XXIII had only two more months to live, but still he persevered through illness and pain to finish Pacem in Terris.  He had a powerful message to deliver while he still drew breath.

Continue reading

Sharing Security – a poem

Quilt by Sarah Witherby

Quilt by Sarah Witherby

by Jill Anderson

written on April 5th 2013 at Pendle Hill

Two women, wives on their way to a quilting weekend
where together with strangers they will sew a mystery quilt,
a mystery that will not hang on the wall,
but will cover benches, and beds, and bodies.

As the couple left, we sat again in our ample circle,
holding each other’s partialness in the gentle trust of Friendship,
prophetic voices mingling with Experience and Expertise,
and the Tower of Babel leaning closer to earth
as if kneeling down to listen.

Continue reading

Shared Security

by Shan Cretin and Diane Randall

Shan Cretin and Diane Randall at the consultation on Shared Security at Pendle Hill in April, 2013

Shan Cretin and Diane Randall at the consultation on Shared Security at Pendle Hill in April, 2013

Peace is possible.  For more than three and a half centuries, Friends have sought to demonstrate the truth of that simple statement.  In a world wracked by violence and war, environmental crises, hatred and injustice, poverty, disease, and human suffering, peace can often feel like a distant possibility at best.  As Friends’ organizations working today to build a more peaceful and just world within the context of US foreign policy we believe that to reclaim the possibility of peace we must help our country find a new path, a way to engage in the world that truly promotes peace and justice.

Over the past year, FCNL and AFSC have been working together to envision a new role for the US in the world, one grounded in our Quaker understanding that the Divine Light lives within each person and our belief that we are called to “try what love can do” to heal a broken world.  After many months of discussion, writing, reflection, and consultation with many Friends and partners, we are pleased to share the initial results of this effort in our new joint publication, Shared Security.

Continue reading

A spiritual basis for the common good

Note: This post was originally presented as “Pacem in Terris” lecture at Cabrini College on April 10, 2013.

by Dan Seeger

It has been common in western thought, from ancient times up until the present, to view reality as divided between an ideal world of spirituality and perfectedness, and a counterpart world of material and practical reality which is fallen and corrupted. This concept began with Plato and was given a theological overlay by Christianity.  It invites the idea that truth and beauty are attractive but insubstantial, and that they are impossible of realization, while the demands of practical reality inevitably require various violent and ugly compromises, and radical departures from ideal concepts of purity and goodness.

Quaker spirituality, as well as other minority streams of Christian mysticism, and most eastern spiritualities, reject this dualistic view of reality.  They affirm a true understanding of our situation, which is that the mundane and the divine are one.  What so many mistakenly see as realms separate and apart are, in truth, so interdependent that one cannot be understood, or even spoken of, without the other.  The official mainstream “realism” which ignores the unity of the ethical and practical spheres has given us a world in which the seeds of future strife and conflict are being sown day after day.

Continue reading