The United States is a no-show at an international conference in Dublin this week that aims to ban cluster bombs. But Pope Benedict XVI has endorsed the gathering, which was called together out of frustration with the pace of the slow-moving diplomatic talks the U.S. advocates. He said he hopes that "through the responsibility of all the participants, a strong and credible international instrument will be created."It's too bad that the pope's remarks have gotten just about no media attention in the United States, since they provide an interesting context for what should be a significant issue in the presidential campaign.Barack Obama voted in favor of a 2006 Senate measure aimed at blocking the use of cluster bombs in areas where civilians live; Hillary Clinton opposed it, as did John McCain. (Check the roll call here.) This proposal came up amid controversy over Israel's use of American-made cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. As David Rees wrote on The Huffington Post several months ago, Clinton was concerned about looking "soft" on terrorism. (In 1997, Bill Clinton also opposed a ban on land mines, as the Bush administration has.)It's worth looking back at the language of the proposal, which would have amended a military spending bill:Sec. 8109. No funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act my be obligated or expended to acquire, utilize, sell, or transfer any cluster munition unless the rules of engagement applicable to the cluster munition ensure that the cluster munition will not be used in or near any concentrated population of civilians, whether permanent or temporary, including inhabited parts of cities or villages, camps or columns of refugees or evacuees, or camps or groups of nomads.One can only hope that when the Dublin conference concludes, the reporters covering the presidential campaign will push the candidates to address their conflicting approaches to this issue.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.