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Professors discuss national security

Tess Civantos | Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Notre Dame professors and students gathered in the Hesburgh Center’s Great Hall to discuss foreign policy and national security as it relates to the upcoming election at the fourth Pizza, Pop and Politics event sponsored by ND Votes ’08, which is a part of the Center for Social Concerns, and the Washington Program.

Law School professor Mary Ellen O’Connell said the presidential candidates must ask themselves how to best approach the major issues of the election.

The future president will need to work for peace in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, where the United States military is engaged in armed conflicts, she said.

“These conflicts need to be resolved. Our troops need to be brought home,” O’Connell said.

Also, a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine has to be very high on the future president’s agenda, she said.

“The problem of weapons administration has been huge” and peaceful solutions must be found, O’Connell said. “Look at South Africa, Libya [and the] Ukraine. Countries that have given up their bombs have done so through peaceful means, not through force.”

Another key issue for the future president is the re-establishment of America’s international image, O’Connell said.

“We have been the rule-of-law country since our founding,” she said. “We respect human rights. The next president will refurbish our reputation for human rights.”

O’Connell cited the Law of the Sea convention, a treaty which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, as an example of one way the next president could improve American international image.

“I think the next president will sign this one right away”, O’Connell said. According to the Web site un.org, however, the United States has already signed the treaty, but the Senate has not ratified it. President Bush has endorsed the treaty and asked the Senate to support it, said the Web site America.gov.

“I think we need to rethink our use of military force in the world, rejoin the international court of law,” O’Connell said. “I think we need to focus on diplomacy, promoting rule of law, and backing off out use of force.”

Joseph Bock, Director of External Relations for the Kroc Institute for International Studies, directly addressed the foreign policy and diplomacy strategies of presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.

The two candidates share many similarities in these areas, he said.

“They both oppose torture, they both want to close Guantanamo Bay, they both support increased resources for the military,” Bock said. “They want to talk with Iran, they see the need to improve [the United States’] image abroad.”

At the same time, Bock cited several differences between the two candidates.

“Obama made a statement at one point that he would be willing to bomb Pakistan if the Taliban was found there,” Bock said. “McCain said that is careless.”

“McCain says we need a victory in Iraq”, while Obama wants to redirect resources there, Bock added.

McCain has expressed interest in a League of Democracies that could be a counterpoint to the United Nations, while Obama is generally supportive of the U.N., Bock said.

Bock compared the decision-making processes of the two candidates, asking, “Who is a strong decision maker?”

Obama takes a “no drama” approach, while McCain’s approach is intuitive, Bock said.

Political science professor Michael Desch agreed with Bock that the candidates have a lot in common.

“Both McCain and Obama are developing very similar sorts of platforms,” although McCain groups foreign policy issues together with national security issues, he said.

“There is a big food fight between the two campaigns over diplomacy,” Desch said. “Their strategies for the war on terrorism are very different.”

Desch compared McCain’s and Obama’s strengths and weaknesses as measured by polls.

Obama is preferred on economy issues, for example, while McCain has an advantage on immigration.

“Obama has shown surprising strength on foreign policy,” Desch said. “[But] McCain has a slight edge on handling terrorism and foreign policy.”

In the end, “domestic politics are sucking the oxygen out of everything else,” Desch said.