A Shared Security Future in the Middle East?

By Bridget Moix

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

Can the recent return to diplomacy between Washington and Tehran be sustained, and even expanded to include broader regional issues, like curbing violence in Syria and Afghanistan? Or will the distrust of decades between the two nations prove too great an obstacle to real peacemaking?

Let’s first recognize the remarkable shift in relations that recent engagements between US and Iranian officials represent. Earlier this year, the two nations seemed on the brink of war. FCNL was lobbying hard that “war is not the answer” and to just keep the option of diplomacy on the table as the U.S. Congress imposed a continuous barrage of painful sanctions on Iran and the administration kept the door closed on direct engagement. The possibility of a US war against Iran seemed both real and urgent. Continue reading

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Finding a Way Forward With Iran

By Doug Bennett

This is a response to our question of the week. You can read all of the responses here.

This fall there are glimmers of hope for better relations with Iran.  There has even been a recent telephone exchange between the Presidents of the two countries. Are these glimmers just fool’s gold, or might there be real possibilities?

In recent years, a key issue in contention between the U.S. and Iran has been the prospect of Iran’s becoming a nuclear power.  The next round of the negotiations over this issue are scheduled to begin on November 7. Those at the table will be diplomats from the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany – the so-called P5+1. Iran now has the capability to refine uranium into weapons grade material. The U.S. has been staunchly opposed to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons; the Iranians contend that their envisioned uses of nuclear power are entirely peaceful. The United States has imposed economic sanctions against Iran and persuaded most other countries to join it in imposing these sanctions, which have pinched hard. Continue reading

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.’

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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.

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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.

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Genocide Prevention Progress (Slowly But Surely)

By Kathy Zager and Tommy Wrenn. Cross-posted on the FCNL website.

This past year marked important reforms for genocide prevention. President Obama introduced Presidential Study Directive 10, calling for a number of reforms including the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board, which FCNL lauded. You can read more about what’s happened over the past year here.

Nonetheless, when you work with a bureaucracy as large and plodding as the U.S. government, you learn a new language of progress, and you adjust your expectations for the pace of change.

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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.

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