Obama, Catholics and Foreign Policy

Next month, Pope Benedict XVI will address the United Nations and we can expect him to denounce the Iraq War in very explicit terms. The press will recall that Pope John Paul II warned against the unintended consequences of the use of force before the war. No one would call either of these two popes naïve. Indeed, it was their common devotion to St. Augustine that made them wary of the recourse to force. Augustine and his papal devotees do not believe peace will necessarily reign when force is avoided but all three recognize that the use of force usually makes a bad situation worse. Here is a big opening for Sen. Obama. Not only can he invoke the foresight of John Paul II, a man still revered among American Catholics, but he can contrast that foresight with the rush to war to which his opponent, Sen. Clinton, was a party. The last thing Clinton wants is to re-visit her 2002 vote to authorize the war. The most damaging storyline against Clinton is that she is a creature of political expedience and contrasting her words then with her views now exposes her to that charge with a vengeance. Pope Benedict’s UN speech will also be filled with a more general critique of any foreign policy that is built around the use of force and geo-strategic concerns, advocating in its stead for policies built upon solidarity, respect for human rights, and negotiated settlements to conflict. He will call for increased aid to the impoverished nations of the Southern Hemisphere. And, he will set forth his conception of human dignity, rooted in our common brotherhood as children of God, as the means and end of all civil society. Benedict will address transnational issues such as global warming and endemic poverty with the authority of the only institution that is older than the nations. It is not difficult to see how Obama will find in Benedict’s words echoes of his own calls for "a new outlook" in Washington. In a speech last April, Obama said: "Whether it’s global terrorism or pandemic disease, dramatic climate change or the proliferation of weapons of mass annihilation, the threats we face at the dawn of the 21st century can no longer be contained by borders and boundaries." Obama’s internationalism can usefully employ the moral arguments Benedict will supply to advocate for multilateral solutions rather than the cowboy diplomacy of George Bush. Pope Benedict will put the Iraq War, and the thinking that got us into that war, back at the center of political discussion. It is a debate Obama wants to have. Michael Sean Winters
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10 years 10 months ago
I couldn't agree with you more that the Pope will no doubt "set forth his conception of human dignity, rooted in our common brotherhood as children of God, as the means and end of all civil society." As to human dignity and its relationship to foreign policy, Obama will more than likely welcome the Pope's remarks, especially as they pertain to the Iraq War and its inception. However, to the extent the Pope also speaks about "human dignity" beginning at "conception," I doubt, unfortunately, that Obama will likely welcome BXVI's remarks.

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