According to the mid-summer polls, Americans are primarily concerned about the U.S. economy as the country enters the last lap of the 2008 election cycle. No visitor to the gas pumps, and no investor, can doubt why. Yet we also live in a globalized world in which the tectonic plates that shape international politics are shifting, often dangerously. What does a Catholic optic on world politics suggest about these circumstances? What questions might thoughtful Catholic voters put to the principal presidential candidates about U.S. foreign policy?
Some suggestions follow; Iraq will be addressed in a separate column.
Questions for both candidates:
1) We know what you think the Bush administration got wrong. What do you think the Bush administration got right? Would you, for example, continue the administration’s massive funding of AIDS relief and AIDS prevention in Africa? Would you follow the Bush administration in resisting the siren song of condom-mania in fighting AIDS? Would you continue President Bush’s other Third World health initiatives?
2) At the United Nations this past April, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of a “duty to protect” as the fundamental task of governments and the litmus test of political legitimacy. There are several prominent cases, however, where governments are manifestly failing in their “duty to protect.” Without using the words “international community,” please tell us in specific terms what you propose to do about the genocide in the south Sudan? Avoiding that same phrase, please describe your approach to impending, government-caused starvation in Zimbabwe? And, once again avoiding the words “international community,” what would you have done about the grotesque irresponsibility of the Burmese military junta when faced with a major humanitarian disaster?
3) Europe keeps proclaiming that “this” is its “moment” -- and then does nothing. How will you persuade European governments to change the rules-of-engagement that govern their forces in Afghanistan, so that they actually fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda? Will you challenge European governments to invest in the military capabilities that will permit coordinated western responses to global crises? How can Europe help contain and deter a revanchist Russia?
4) The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has frequently stated his determination to incinerate the State of Israel, and on occasion has made similar threats against the United States and Great Britain. Do you believe him? Do you agree that Iran, governed as it is today, cannot be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons -- which it could then use, or transfer to terrorist organizations? If, however, you are prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, why do you believe that deterrence will work in this case, given the passion for martyrdom among Shi’ite jihadists, some of whom are in the Iranian government?
5) What will you do with the hard-core terrorists now held at Guantanamo? Do you agree with the Supreme Court majority that foreign terrorists now held abroad have the same constitutional rights as American citizens imprisoned here in the United States?
6) What steps will you take to ensure that the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency recognize the dynamic, multiple roles that religious conviction plays in world politics?
7) What measures will you take to counter the barrage of anti-American agitprop that comes from new media like al-Jazeera and old, once-respected media like the BBC?
8) What will you do about the terrorist camps in Waziristan and the other essentially ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan?
9) Is Afghanistan really governable? If not, how does NATO prevent Afghanistan from reverting to Taliban barbarism and acting as a base camp for global jihadism?
10) Is the first use of military force ever morally justifiable? Is so, when? If not, why not?
11) Can liberal democracy take root in the Arab Islamic world?
Question for Senator John McCain:
How would you work with Democrats so that the war against terrorism is a bipartisan effort?
Question for Senator Barack Obama:
Is it possible that President Bush is unpopular in Europe because he forced Europeans to face truths they’d been avoiding for years? If consultation with old allies leads to strategic paralysis, at what point are you willing to act unilaterally?
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.