“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.
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.
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.
“War Is Not the Answer.” Perhaps you’ve had that bumper sticker on your car, or perhaps you still have that lawn sign. Perhaps you know that these come from the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Likely that sentence expresses something you feel deeply. It certainly speaks for me.
But what is the next sentence? And what is the next sentence after that? If war is not the answer, what might the answer be?