Cluster Bombs and Doing The Right Thing

The conventional wisdom in this campaign has been that Obama and Clinton agree on most issues. While there are certainly areas of agreement, I’ve noted many significant differences in the past which have affected my decision as to who to support. One of these areas of difference is the topic of an international conference with representatives from 122 countries Wellington, New Zealand. The conference aims to draft text for a treaty to ban cluster bombs.

During the conference it was noted that four out of every ten people killed or injured by cluster bombs are children. It takes a village, or in this case an international consensus, to ban cluster bombs. From a report on the conference via AfterDowningStreet:

Opening the conference, Disarmament Minister Phil Goff said a strong declaration on cluster bombs at the conference would mark a pivotal step in getting the weapons banned.

More than half of the 76 states in the world that stockpile cluster munitions are taking part in the negotiations, along with a majority of the weapon producers.

However, major producers such as the US, Russia, China and Pakistan have not joined the process and have no observers at the conference.

Cluster bombs are built to explode above the ground, releasing thousands of bomblets primed to detonate on impact. But combat statistics show between 10 percent and 40 percent fail to go off and lie primed in the target area to kill and injure civilians.

UNICEF deputy executive director Hilde Frafjord Johnson, speaking on behalf of 14 United Nations entities that form the United Nations Mine Action Team, said the UN wanted cluster bombs banned.

She said the weapons had a horrendous humanitarian, development and human rights impact.

As I suggested at the start, this report relates to one of the differences between Obama and Clinton. Earlier in the month David Rees wrote the following at The Huffington Post:

Cluster bombs and landmines are particularly terrifying weapons that wreak havoc on communities trying to recover from war. They are fatal impediments to reconstruction and rehabilitation of agricultural land; they destroy valuable livestock; they disable otherwise productive members of society; they maim or kill children trying to salvage them for scrap metal.

Over 150 nations have signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. It pains me that our great nation has not. But in the autumn of 2006, there was a chance to take a step in the right direction: Senate Amendment No. 4882, an amendment to a Pentagon appropriations bill that would have banned the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas.

Senator Obama of Illinois voted IN FAVOR of the ban.

Senator Clinton of New York voted AGAINST the ban.

Analysts say Clinton did not want to risk appearing “soft on terror,” as it would have harmed her electibility.

I’m not a single-issue voter. But as Obama and Clinton share many policy positions, this vote was revelatory for me. After all, Amendment No. 4882 was an easy one to vote against: Who’d want to risk accusation of “tying the hands of the Pentagon” during a never-ending, global War on Terror? As is so often the case, there was no political cost to doing the wrong thing. And there was no political reward for doing the right thing.

But Senator Obama did the right thing.

This is just one more issue, but it is also part of a pattern I’ve noted in comparing the views of Obama and Clinton. Just as on this issue, Clinton frequently favors the status quo, while Obama has done the right thing in supporting change.

Cross posted at The Carpetbagger Report

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