Vision for A New Foreign Policy

Peace activist Cora Weiss delivered this speech at the 28th annual
Conference for Peace sponsored by the New Jersey Coalition for Peace
Action at Princeton University November 16, 2008. It appears here as
part of the ongoing Moral Compass series, focused on the spoken word.

Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, there has never been a time like this.

A new president takes charge, it is time to talk together, to walk
together and to work together. It is the only time we have.

On Day One, President Barack Obama must repeal the gag rule that
prohibits US funds from supporting women and health clinics that discuss
or administer abortions worldwide. Bush issued that gag order on his Day
One. Obama must now expunge it.

Obama needs to shut down Guantanamo, return that piece of Cuba to
the Cubans and declare that his foreign policy will be based on the
force of law, not the law of force.

When Obama issues his plan for the return of all soldiers and
contractors from Iraq, and a program for the reconstruction of the
country, he should not send them instead to Afghanistan. He should
announce a diplomatic surge.

This new era began when Barack Obama opened his campaign, quoting Dr.
King, and spoke of the "fierce urgency of now." When he became
president-elect, Obama told us that "the true strength of our nation
comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but
from the enduring power of our ideals, democracy, liberty, opportunity
and unyielding hope."

Obama has promised to "return to an American foreign policy consistent
with America's traditional values and wants to partner with moderates
within the Islamic world to counter Al Qaeda propaganda."

Everyone here agrees that the agenda is long and difficult. Nuclear
weapons, Iraq, Iran, Israel; Congo, Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico,
Venezuela, Cuba, trafficking of girls and women, child soldiers,
torture--and the list goes on.

As a strong believer in participatory democracy, I decided to ask people
who are impacted by our foreign policy what kind of foreign policy they
think we should have.

Lucy, in Nairobi, Kenya, writes: "We would like America to stop giving
military support to countries in this region simply because we border
Somalia. These arms find their way onto our streets and help fuel
festering conflicts."

Secondly, she said, "Now that Bush is exiting...please can the US do
more in ending the war in the DRC, Congo."

Loreta in the Philippines writes: "It was Obama's anti-war stance that
made me think he would be better than Hillary. My hope is that his
foreign policy will truly use the power of nonviolence to resolve
problems. Use diplomacy, and carrots and sticks (incentives and
sanctions), but do not give legitimacy to war as a means of conflict

"The world favored him because of the hope he would be multi-lateralist,
listen to other voices and start a new world ethic among industrialized
countries. They hope for him to lead in fair trade and resist corporate
interests that ruin the environment.

"The presence of the US military in Mindinao," she concluded, "is adding
to the negative views about the United States. We need humanitarian and
development aid and not a US military presence."

Then there was the woman from Queens, New York, who said, "We need to
re-establish our reputation around the world. People can relate to Obama.
He is someone who grew up poor and is half Kenyan. He's an excellent
communicator and will help diminish terrorism. Maybe they won't hate us

Since FDR, there has never been a time like this.

Never so much hope, never such high expectations. We must be careful not
to give up our hope but to reduce our expectations so we won't be
disappointed. The miracle has happened--the miracle of the most
participatory inclusive campaign; the miracle of the election. Now we
must keep our agenda alive, reasonable and doable.

"Nothing happens unless first a dream," said Carl Sandburg. And, "When
we dream alone it is just a dream, but when we dream together, it
becomes reality," wisely promised Dom Helder Camera, the late archbishop
of Recife, Brazil.

So, I dream. Not nightmare dreams. Not daydreams. I dream "Why not?"
dreams, and I welcome you to dream with me so they will become reality.

Why not call for the abolition of war as an institution? Why can't
President Obama, by his actions, invest in diplomacy and return the
State Department to its original size and significance? Why can't
President Obama, by his words, build a case not only for taking
unilateral steps to remove nuclear bombs from hair-trigger alert, and
start abolishing our stockpile, and work for a treaty on nuclear weapons
abolition, but build a case for the abolition of war? Why not?

Remember--return to the force of law, not the law of force.

The world once abolished slavery, colonialism, apartheid. And even the
prohibition against women voting is gone. We can all vote, so, why not
abolish war?

War is expensive, destructive, deadly, and as we are seeing in Iraq and
Afghanistan, there are no winners. The lethality of weapons, the
homicidal presence of nuclear bombs on hair-trigger alert, makes war an
impossibility if we want to preserve planet Earth with people on it.

Who do you think once said, "We are in the era of thermonuclear bombs
that can obliterate cities and can be delivered across continents. With
such weapons war has become not just tragic, but preposterous"? Dwight
David Eisenhower--former general, former president of the United States.

Abe Lincoln, our next president's hero, questioned "an American invasion
of a country that was in no way molesting or menacing us."

So, do I think Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, should take an
oath never to go to war? You bet. And to keep Bill out of it?
Absolutely. And should she agree to nominate progressive women of all
colors and religions with peace and justice values to be ambassadors?
For sure.

And should she read, memorize, and learn how to implement United Nations Security
Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security, unanimously
adopted, which calls for placing women at all levels of decision-making,
especially at the tables where the fate of humanity is at stake:
peace-making tables? On Day One.

But let us be clear. It takes more than ovaries to put a woman at any
table. We have just survived the most egregious example of
fundamentalism in a skirt. The Republican candidate for vice president
is the best reason why we can no longer call simply for more women. We
need women who will work for the total elimination of nuclear bombs;
women who will talk peace, walk peace and make peace; women who will
work for the full implementation of the Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, and justice for all; women who will reject all forms of
torture; women who will promote education for all women and girls
everywhere; women who will plant windmills, provide solar panels and cut
polluting emissions; women who will throw our energy, enthusiasm,
support and solidarity into a robust democratic United Nations; women
who will cut the military budget; women who will help figure out how to
restore economic stability to our nation and to the world. We could use
men like that as well, caring men. We need gender equality--but not
equal to the male policy-makers who have brought our nation, our image,
our economy down in so many ways.

What do you suppose Bishop Desmond Tutu dreams about? He calls on the
new president to close "that abomination, Guantanamo; to replace
the guidelines on the treatment of detainees; launch a comprehensive
inquiry into who authorized torture and when; and apologize to the
nation and to the world, especially the Iraqis, for an invasion that has
turned out to be an unmitigated disaster."

The retired archbishop includes the following on his list, with which I
wholeheartedly concur: He says, "The standing of the US has been damaged
by its hostility to the Kyoto Protocol on green house gases; its refusal
to assent to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,
establishing the ICC's role in prosecuting war crimes; its restrictions
on the use of US funding to fight AIDS; and the arrogant unilateralism
it has employed in declaring to be enemies any countries it deemed
'against us' because they were not 'for us.'" Why can't Tutu's dream
list become reality? Why not?

The year 2009 has been declared the Year of Reconciliation by the United
Nations. What an opportunity! What better resolution to stand on! Why
can't Obama, no matter where he is speaking, start talking about what
people are doing to heal the wounds of hatred, the wounds of anger? What
are people doing to prevent violence, to teach peace? Obama's hero, Abe
Lincoln, spoke of reconciliation as making strangers into neighbors.

How about giving all of our Peace Corps volunteers, and all of our Teach
for America volunteers special courses in how to play an active and
informed role in democracy? I believe that a humane, democratic, decent,
peace-filled foreign policy begins at home. So a healthy foreign policy
with well-prepared emissaries, negotiators and representatives depends
on a good education for all our people.

We need to integrate peace education into all our education classes,
from pre-K through university. We need to teach about human rights,
gender equality, nonviolence, disarmament, sustainable development,
social and economic rights, international law, human security and
traditional peace practices.

The methodology of peace education is based on participation, on
listening, on critical inquiry. That should also be the methodology of
good governance. Obama can set the example. He is a good listener; he
asks good questions. And look at how many hundreds of thousands of
people he had participating in his campaign!

Everyone knows that the next president is an international person. So
foreign policy should be second nature to him. He is not only half
Kenyan and was educated in Indonesia but a town in Ireland has a
welcome song ready for him:

O'Leary, O'Reilly,

O'Hallahan, O'Hara,

There is no one as Irish

As Barack O'Bama

Obama has said that the economy is the greatest challenge of our
lifetime. But civil society has not yet gotten together to put together
the frightening economic crisis with military spending. If half the
world's $1.3 trillion military expenditure were put into infrastructure,
millions of jobs would be created--$1.3 trillion will not prevent
another 9/11. Only by proving to the world that we do not hate people,
that we will not bomb people, that we will not put our military bases on
their soil and our soldiers will not rape their women and girls; that we
won't take their resources; that we will behave multilaterally; that we
will encourage student exchanges; that we will sow trust; and we will
condemn any act of racial, gender or ethnic discrimination will we
prevent more 9/11's.

FDR established the life-saving WPA. He said, "I have seen the face of
war, I hate war"; he sent his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, to develop and
promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She later refused
President Truman's demand that she reject the idea of economic and
social rights because they were the product of the then-Soviet Union.

So, it is time to remember Roosevelt, time to recall Lincoln, time to
ask: "Why not?"

It is time to dream together, to talk together, to walk together and to
work together. Time for reconciliation. This is our time. It's the only
time we've got.

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