Keeping the peace is not simply a matter of making right decisions and sticking with them. In area after area one faces inherent conflicts between right things to do.

To give one of the most fundamental examples, we want to support human rights wherever we can. Two countries that are manifestly violating human rights in gross ways are Russia and China. Somewhere today I saw a report that Putin may be thinking of imitating Chinese control tactics in Russia where at least 30 advocates of human rights have been murdered of late without one case being solved. And China executes thousands (including dissenters) each year:

“With at least 1,718, China was responsible for 72 percent of all executions in 2008, the report stated. After China were Iran (346), Saudi Arabia (102), the United States (37) and Pakistan (36), according to the group.”

And yet the U.S. is doing its apparent best to nurture peace with Russia and China — the world’s most powerful nations after the U.S. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of his efforts towards global peace:

“President Barack Obama made time for a brief statement about his Nobel Peace Prize award on Friday, before heading in to a more pressing engagement — a high-powered White House strategy session on the next phase of his war in Afghanistan. That was just one indication that this year’s peace prize was, as Obama himself put it, honoring aspiration rather than achievement.”

He postponed a meeting with the Dalai Lama presumably because he did not want to offend the Chinese with whom he is making peace efforts:

“The Dalai Lama arrived Monday in Washington and will be received by prominent lawmakers and the U.S. coordinator for Tibet. But the focus for many in China, Tibet and the United States is the president’s decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama until after Obama visits Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing in November.”

Obama has weathered much criticism for this and other comparable choices.

How are we to read such conflicts? Speaking as a retired philosopher (recovering from flu), I am repeatedly irritated by the misuse of language and particularly concepts originally stemming from my field. For example one could say (as some have) that Obama is acting “pragmatically” rather than on “principle.” This is a simplistic and distorting false distinction. With any decent reading of this man one can see that he is doing his best, using his extensive training in foreign affairs, law, community service, care for persons, to achieve peace and avoid wars which — with WMD available — would be disastrous. The little wars have been a bloodbath for all involved. We have mad ones running around who are willing to blow themselves up — and presumable as much of the rest of humanity as they can. Weird that this ‘end of the world’ (apocalyptic) vision emerged from early Jewish, Christian, and other religious speculations and has perverted much of world’s thinking ever since:

Imagine such types gaining control of nuclear Pakistan which has already fought 3 little wars with India!   Help!

Presumably Obama’s thinking through the situation in Afghanistan is much, if not more, focused on Pakistan where such killing games are running hard now.

All this does not mean that Obama and we are not facing horrendous choices. I guess that the best we can do is to follow our Commander-in-Chief’s efforts with the major powers while speaking loudly through our media to human rights violations. I think the rest of the world probably gets the point that Obama and we want peace entire, but have to work towards it gradually and hope for the best over the long run. Hopefully the nations mentioned above will gradually improve their human rights practices in time. Brutal governments or religious cult groups are not loved and are generally their own worst suicidal enemies. Rebellion against them is always lurking near. Let’s hope.

What do you think?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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