The news business, so addicted to conflict, often overlooks stories of countries putting the past behind them. But lately, anyone who searches for "reconciliation" on Google News might be surprised. Many a hatchet is being buried.
One example is last week's fence-mending visit to Libya by Condoleezza Rice. She was the first US secretary of State in more than a half century to set foot in the "rogue" North African state, which was bombed by the US in 1986.
While her Tripoli trip was not a Nixon-to-China moment, it does reflect a key decision by Libya's Muammar Qaddafi – after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq – to give up chemical weapons, end a nuclear-bomb project, and pay the families of victims in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. And his move helps end international sanctions on his people.
Another diplomatic trip that requires two countries to jump over the shadows of their past was the Sept. 7 visit by Turkey's president to neighboring Armenia for talks and to attend a binational soccer game. These two peoples have been estranged for decades by the Armenian protest over genocide in 1915 by the pre-Turkey Ottoman Empire. With Turkey hoping to join the European Union and with Armenia's eye on Russia's invasion of Georgia, the two countries may now try to resolve their dispute over history.
Meanwhile, on the divided Mediterranean isle of Cyprus, talks began Sept. 3 to see if the Greek and Turkish sides of the island can be reunited. Also last week in the Mideast, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the first Western leader in years to visit Damascus, hoping to help Syria break out of a self-imposed isolation as a supporter of terror. His trip may be a model of what the West could someday do with Iran – mullahs willing.
Also this week in Europe, Serbia ratified a premembership agreement with the European Union, helped along by Serbia's role in the capture of a former Bosnian Serb leader for war crimes. This comes nine years after NATO bombed Serbia for its grip on Kosovo.
The Balkan nations, scene of ethnic cleansing during the 1990s, are slowly reconciling. It has taken NATO's military muscle, careful diplomacy, and the lure of EU membership to turn around this volatile corner of Europe.
Not all recent reconciliation is between nations. In July, Saudi Arabia hosted a conference of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders aimed at interfaith harmony and repudiation of fanaticism. In Kenya, a flawed election that put the country on the brink of civil war earlier this year was resolved by the astute intervention of former UN chief Kofi Annan and others.
In the US, Americans who feel a rising pitch of polarization in the run-up to the Nov. 4 presidential vote might ask if there will be any postelection reconciliation.
Both John McCain and Barack Obama entered the contest promoting a postpartisan era. "We belong to different parties," Mr. McCain says, "not different countries." Each side now seems to be going negative, tugged by a media that plays more to conflict and personality than to a probe of issues.
The winner of the election should look to Abraham Lincoln. He welcomed his bitter political rivals into his cabinet after winning. By drawing them close, he turned enemies into allies. And he kept an eye on a grander purpose, which often helps to melt differences.
As Churchill put it, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."