Candidates differ on war, peace

Published 9:57 am Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It would be unfair to say one candidate favors war and the other peace, but there are big differences in the world views of President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.

Obama’s are in keeping with most Democrats, going back at least to the time of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940s.

FDR, after leading America to victory in World War II, advocated that the nations of the world unite in an organization to promote cooperation and peace. The United Nations, which grew out of his work, has not been perfect, but it has helped the world avoid a World War III.

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FDR’s successor, Harry Truman, persuaded the U.N. to help stop North Korean aggression.

Over the years, following the “Truman Doctrine” of “containment,” America built strong alliances with the nations of Europe and elsewhere to contain the spread of Soviet communism. Ultimately, that doctrine worked, and the communists who ran Russia decided to abandon their aggressive goals.

In 2002, Republican George W. Bush declared a new policy for America, which became known as the “Bush Doctrine.”

It said America had the right to a preemptive attack against any nation that we thought might be a threat, now or in the future. He did not get the support of the U.N. for the invasion of Iraq, and a long, bloody war followed.

Sadly, we’re now reaping some of the results of unnecessarily antagonizing the people of that region and Islam itself, which is 1.5 billion people worldwide.

President Obama, though using force to bring down Osama Bin Laden and leaders of Al Qaida, and surging more troops into Mr. Bush’s other war in Afghanistan, has been careful to cooperate with allies and avoid unnecessary confrontations.

He’s brought the troops home from Iraq on schedule, in spite of pressures from some in the military and Republicans such as Sen. John McCain, his opponent in 2008, who said he didn’t care if our troops remained there for 100 years. Obama has scheduled our troops to come home from Afghanistan in 2014.

Governor Romney seems to bring his “47%” attitude toward America’s less fortunate, to foreign affairs assessments as well. Israel and Palestine, he says, can never reach agreement, so we should just avoid their problem and “kick it down the road.”

But President Carter, whom Republicans like to point to as a failure, brought Egypt and Israel together in spite of animosity going back to the time of Moses.

President Clinton sponsored successful peace talks between Northern and southern Ireland. They had been fighting at least since the 1600s.

These kinds of efforts by Carter and Clinton show that America can be a force for good in the world. Governor Romney, not very experienced in foreign affairs, is relying for advice mostly on people from the recent Bush administration, such as John Bolton.

Bolton once said, “You could lose the top ten floors of the U.N.” and it wouldn’t matter — a sharp contrast with FDR’s view.

This attitude, along with support for preemptive war, rests on the dangerous assumption that we are above international law and can do no wrong. And the Romney-Ryan budget proposals include large increases for the military—already far larger than any other nation’s–while cutting funds for students, health care, and even veteran’s needs.

Although politicians often disagree over foreign policy, most have followed the advice famously articulated by Republican Senator Vandenberg of Michigan during World War II: “Politics stops at the water’s edge.”

Meaning, when our President is abroad, or dealing with military actions abroad, his political opponents at home remain silent, or supportive, as Democrats were of Bush after 9/11.

The time for criticism is after the immediate crisis is over, not while it’s raging.

Governor Romney ignored this sage advice as he recently criticized the President for, he said incorrectly, sympathizing with those who attacked our Libyan embassy. They hadn’t attacked the embassy when the statement was made, and the President had not personally made the statement.

Voters will have to choose which philosophy and which personality they trust to defend the nation and protect our citizens: President Obama’s experience, strength and cooperation, or Governor Romney’s tough talk, but pessimism and little sensitivity toward a very diverse world.


Jack Burgess is a retired teacher of American & Global Studies, a U.S. Army veteran, and a native of southern Ohio.