War and peace. We have lived with both since that day when brother first slew brother in the name of religion and third-party intervention set forth the terms of a settlement meant to prevent further violence. Fat chance of that. The surge from peace to adversarial relations to conflict and war had settled in as an enduringly lamentable fact of human affairs. History reveals a race whose preference for solving crises through nonviolence stretches just so far and then snaps.
In our day, the incendiary conduct of nineteen men aboard four aircraft on September 11, 2001 was the snap heard round the world. With it, the optimism of a fledgling international peace that was in the air following the end of the Cold War fell to earth. Since then, prospects trending toward furthering peace rather than conflict and war have seemed pretty hopeless.
In the previous post, a moving story from Rabbi Marc Gopin hinted at how inner attitudes of one individual toward another (in this case a Jew toward an Arab) can remain tense or adversarial or can ease up and back down. What we think about others who are not like us is going to betray itself in our words, gestures, and deeds. Multiply his story by millions and it is easy to see why individuals matter to war and peace. Domestic attitudes matter to the shape and conditions of international life.
The most formal way in which domestic attitudes and views affect international life is through a nation’s foreign policy. True, foreign policy decision making in the West is not particularly “democratic.” It is superintended by relatively small communities of presidents, prime ministers, and foreign policy elites who do not submit their policies to direct popular votes. Yet domestic attitudes can loom large in a nation’s international politics.
If, for example, a large percentage of American voters favor an easing of tensions with Iran, that attitude will carry weight inside White House policy, whether it is a Democrat or a Republican administration. And if the policy is to succeed in the long run, it must grip the consciences of a large majority of individuals in the nation. If, as the saying goes, all politics are local, then it is equally true that all international peacemaking begins with the individual, with me and you.
Formally, however, the task falls to the diplomats, international mediators, negotiators, special envoys, and relevant others. These are the men and women who get tasked with making things happen when leaders and their nations have determined to end adversarial relations, conflict, or war with other nations and enter into peaceable relations. But diplomats and others who are trying to bring the parties to Yes can get a bad rap. They get accused of waffling, of going too slow, of selling out, and of much more besides. The populations back home, however, usually have no idea of the insurmountable odds that can be stacked against diplomatic teams. This is why I have gained a huge amount of respect for them. They are really up against it, and few understand that.
The historic wisdom literature tradition is not silent on the subject of wisdom-based diplomacy as vital for international cooperation and peace. Beginning with the next post, we will start exploring key narratives that bring this out. And maybe along the way we will discover some lost tools to help in today’s task.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer