In President Obama’s comprehensive speech on the Middle East, religious freedom was prominently included in a “set of universal rights” that the president set as the “core principles” of U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East. “Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders…”
Such a sweeping affirmation of human rights led CNN’s Stephen Prothero to conclude that in this new policy approach, the president “sided Thursday with idealists rather than realists.”
The realist/idealist divide is not one that adequately describes Obama’s approach to marrying principles to practices. In my view, Obama is trying to overcome the idealist/realist divide in his approach to foreign policy. To see this in development, the better precedent for this “Arab Spring” speech is not the Cairo address from June of 2009, but Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech that he delivered six months later.
I have argued that in the Nobel Prize speech, the outlines of an “Obama Doctrine” could be found. That new framework, articulated by Obama in Oslo, depended to a great extend on the “practice norms” of what is now called the Just Peace paradigm. Obama mentions all ten of the Just Peace practices
In this “Arab Spring” speech, the president actually mentions six out of the ten Just Peace practice norms: use non-violence, use cooperative conflict resolution, advance democracy, human rights, and interdependence, foster just and sustainable economic development, work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system, and reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trade (nuclear weapons).
Human rights and economic development, conflict reduction and democracy promotion are not ‘ideals’ vs. ‘realities’ in the Just Peace paradigm. They are practices that when employed in real historical contexts have a proven track record of increasing peace and justice.
In the Oslo address, the president put equal emphasis on Just War theory, however, and on the realities of conflict in our world. In the “Arab Spring” speech, it is interesting to see that the balance is tipping slightly toward human aspirations and human dignity over the threat of violence.
The president concluded that the direction for our foreign policy is for “a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.” Justice and peace. Just Peace.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite | May 20, 2011 10:03 AM