Friday, March 18, 2011

Another Continuing Resolution: A Real Life Fairy Tale in Washington

Read the full story on the Huffington Post!

Another Continuing Resolution: A Real Life Fairy Tale in Washington

At the stroke of midnight tonight -- Friday, March 18th, Cindarella's coach might have turned back into a pumpkin and the White House could have shut down the government. But fairy tales are true to form, and so we have a Continuing Resolution that lets everyone live happily ever after -- at least for 3 weeks.

Regardless of how this next chapter of the budget morality tale ends, the moral of the story is the same: we all need a bit of magic in our lives or a handsome prince with a glass slipper. Reality is just too hard. Watching Washington wrestle with how to cut another swatch from the national budget cloth is getting darn depressing.

All this debate makes you hate conflict when, truthfully, conflict is not inherently bad. In fact, "conflict' is inherent in the human condition and can be good when it leads to civil discourse, friendly competition, healthy argumentation, and an enriched democracy. Where it gets ugly is when it leads to seemingly contradictory states of paralysis and panic, which is where we are today. What is sad about this real life story of fiscal fighting in the nation's capital is that some very good things are getting lost in the shuffle.

Like peace.

Ironically, one of the casualties of the Congressional financial conflict may be the United States Institute of Peace -- (USIP) an organization that works to prevent the escalation of conflicts overseas where disputes often become violently unmanageable and the parties cannot reconcile differences. The House of Representatives actually voted to de-fund the institute.

The twist on this tale is that USIP often steps in to bring about reconciliation in conflict zones overseas through the art and science of managing even deeply embedded conflicts with long histories. Such skills in mediation, conflict resolution, and peace-building are now taught by USIP in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan and throughout the Middle East. The work takes time, effort and perseverance. Often the parties to a conflict reach a state of peace -- only to fall back into old grievances that reignite tensions. The Institute returns, again and again, to these conflict zones because the alternatives to solving these problems are far worse in terms of loss of life.

People often ask why we don't hear more about the United States Institute of Peace. The answer is that success stories that prevent war never make front page news; peace is hardly worth a picture. It is hard, with conflict prevention, to prove a negative -- that you stopped something bad from happening. Like disease, you don't worry until it comes calling. Like good health, we take peace for granted.

So back in Washington, our nation is in the midst of an ugly conflict and it is not clear who can bring about reconciliation. America may continue to fight this huge budget battle in Congress with no good outcome. We may lose our "sense" just to save a few "cents."

It would be more than unfortunate if peace becomes a casualty of a domestic war. And it would be expensive in the long-term. Wars cost money and lives. If we don't stop wars overseas, we pay for them at home. We have to look beyond the heat of the moment and not sacrifice what is truly significant. That is, if we believe in happy endings.

Tara Sonenshine is Executive Vice President of the United States Institute of Peace.

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