Muddy Notebook

January 22, 2009

New tone with new administration

I listened this morning to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak to State Department staffers on the first day of her new job. She hit all of the right notes to a civil-service staff of diplomatic professionals who had every right to feel beleaguered by the infighting and the disrespect for dipliomacy that marked so much of the Bush administration. She made clear that US foreign and national security policy had three legs — diplomacy, development and defense — and that the first two were thebest ways to keep America safe and promote its values and leadership around the world.  A visit to the State Depatrment by President Obama today will also be powerful proof of the new attitude in Washington toward what’s called ‘soft power.’  How I have longed to see this switch. You can’t take military options off the table, but war should be the last option when vigorous attempts to use the others have failed. 

Considering the well-publicized bickering between Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department and Secretary of State Colin Powell in the first bush term (with Rumsfeld usually the winner), State Department staffers – and world leaders – needed to hear from Clinton and President Obama that the diplomats in his administration are equals, not junior partners, in this White House.

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March 8, 2008

The Power of Politics

Filed under: humanitarian,U.S. politics — carolynthewriter @ 9:21 am

Maybe it’s because I am so interested in looking at the impact of atrocities and prevention of them, especially when it comes to children, that I find myself wanting to give former Barack Obama advisor Samantha Power the benefit of the doubt. The Pulitzer Prize winner’s book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, is considered a classic on the topic.

Maybe she spoke so recklessly because she hasn’t been involved in a political campaign before – Obama, after all, does seem to be drawing in new voters and newcomers to being in a candidate’s inner circle. Maybe Power called Hillary Clinton “a monster” because she just wasn’t thinking strategically, or she’s used to talking about the architects of genocide. That would be a lousy excuse. Whatever her motivation, that and other comments she made in an interview to a Scottish newspaper were simply stupid.

But her unfortunate moment in the spotlight does raise an issue: If Obama had such a highly regarded expert on genocide as a foreign-affairs advisor, why wasn’t he talking about such crises on the campaign trail? In this era of horrors in Darfur, Somalia and Myanmar to name a few, why aren’t any of the presidential candidates talking about the U.S. role in global humanitarian calamities and America’s relationship with the United Nations? Heaven knows it has taken a beating in recent years. Will the United States become an ally to the international organization or continue the adversarial stance that the Bush administration has taken. How will we react when we determine the next genocide is occurring? Calling it a genocide, as the admninistration did for Darfur, is gratuitious if it’s not backed up with action to end the violence. The United States has not gone beyond words.

I challenge the candidates to speak about these issues with more frequency and at greater volume. I challenge journalists who are on debate panels, to ask the contenders least one question about how their White House would proceed with these issues. A lot of people would like to hear those answers before they go into the voting booth. 

Fixing international ties will be one of the most urgent tasks of whoever next occupies the Oval Office.

One of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s hard-working political reporters tells me he has heard those issues raised once in a while on the campaign trail. But they need to be discussed in a broader, more publicized forum for all who care about them to hear and assess as one consideration in who might be the best president.  

March 5, 2008

What Obama, Darfur and Northern Uganda have in common

Filed under: U.S. politics — carolynthewriter @ 5:01 am

I’m from Ohio and I’m addicted to following this year’s presidential race, which today features the primaries in Texas and Ohio. Many people have noted that young people, many of whom have never before participated in a presidential election, have flocked to support Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat running against N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton. But I want to tease out that bloc a little more. I think those young people are the same ones who, for the last several years, have become so active in advocacy on international humanitarian issues. The Philadelphia area, where I live, is a hotbed for student activism. Swarthmore College graduate Mark Hanis years ago started what now is called the Genocide Intervention Network, a nonprofit whose primary goal is stopping the Darfur violence and protecting civilians there. In Indiana several years back, two Notre Dame University alums – Michael Poffenberger and Peter Quaranto, started the Uganda Conflict Action Network and its spin-off, Resolve Uganda, both of which seek to end the two decade-plus war in northern Uganda that has taken such a high toll on children there.

Now, I have no idea who Quaranto, Poffenberger and Hanis are favoring for president, but at the recent Northern Uganda Lobby Days conference in Washington D.C., I saw 750 high school and college students descend enthusiastically upon the George Washington University campus for a day of workshops and panels on Northern Uganda and U.S. policy in Africa (full disclosure: I moderated two of them), and a day of lobbying senators and Congress members on Capitol Hill. I saw a fervor for social causes and an activism that I have to believe transcends their specific cause and seeps into wanting a voice in U.S. policy, and who should be in the Oval Office and on Capitol Hill formulating it.

I don’t know yet who I support for president. There are no chumps among Republican John McCain, Clinton and Obama. I do know that young people getting active – and staying active – is a very good development for the United States and the world. 

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