Obama's Nobel Speech Comes Up Short
By Carl Bloice,
December 17, 2009
Pardon me if I can't join in the fawning praise for
President Obama's Nobel address. "It was, as ever, a
bravura performance," one newspaper said editorially.
That it was, but I can't agree with those, including
some people with whom I'm usually in agreement, that it
was a "good" speech. It wasn't good at all. It was
mostly one long sound bite, carefully crafted to
justify the Obama Administration's decisions regarding
the war in
The editors at the Financial Times called the
speech "a robust defense of liberal interventionism."
In the pages of
speech as having "enunciated a worldview that places
him squarely within the realist and liberal
internationalist thinking that dominated post-World War
`global war on terror'."
"In asserting before the
exist in the world' and that `there will be times when
nations will find the use of force not only necessary
but morally justified', Obama echoed the realism long
favored by Republican policymakers in particular,"
wrote Lobe. "At the same time, his emphasis on the
importance of building international institutions
designed to prevent war - `an idea for which Woodrow
Wilson received this prize', he noted - as well as to
`protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the
most dangerous weapons', echoed the liberal
internationalist creed embraced, at least rhetorically,
by Democratic presidents since Wilson himself." The
Financial Times noted that the President's robust
realism was tempered by the admonition that it should
be "conducted by the
within a framework of engagement - `not as makers of
war but as wagers of peace'."
"Was this yet another example of this supremely
articulate man wanting to communicate with many
audiences at once, having it all ways?" the paper asked.
The logic of Obama's speech relied upon a number of myths.
First, there is the assertion that the
been a force of liberty and security in the world.
"Yet the world must remember that it was not simply
international institutions - not just treaties and
declarations - that brought stability to a post-World
War II world," the Nobel Prize winner said. "Whatever
mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the
security for more than six decades with the blood of
our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service
and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has
promoted peace and prosperity from
and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the
Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek
to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened
self-interest - because we seek a better future for our
children and grandchildren, and we believe that their
lives will be better if other peoples' children and
grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity."
Fine words, but the world, like the elephant, has
memory. It will not forget the political, diplomatic
and military support given corrupt, reactionary regimes
from one corner of the globe to another. An eloquent
speech will not erase the memory of
in the overthrow of governments in
decades reactionary regimes in Asia, the
nearly all these cases was access to the natural
resources of the country involved. The world could
hardly have forgotten that the
project of preventing the Vietnamese people from
deciding themselves how they want to run their county
at a cost of over 600 billion dollars, two million
lives lost and three and a half million wounded.
Another Nobelist, Nelson Mandela, was and is a member
of an organization the
"terrorist" while it was leading the fight against apartheid.
Obama noted that "in many countries there is a deep
ambivalence about military action today, no matter the
cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive
superpower." The people of
be wary and the people of
alarmed that the
new structure of military operations on that continent.
I'd be greatly surprised if alarm bells didn't go off
con sounding Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned
governments there of possible "consequences" resulting
from their relations with
how to deal with
Administration's weak-kneed response to the military
"multilateral." If that's the kind of new liberal
interventionism elucidated in Obama's
world doesn't need it.
Second, the Obama speech willfully distorted the nature
of the conflict in
policy there. The word "Taliban" was not uttered in the
speech. Listening, one might have thought that 30,000
additional troops were being dispatched to fight Al
Qaeda, which by most accounts has fighters numbering in
the hundreds. Actually, they are being sent to defeat
the Taliban which, in fact, means going up against a
resurgence of Pashtun nationalism in
Comparing Al Qaeda to German fascism might seem clever,
but it is just a rhetorical trick. The industrialized
Nazi state had the most advanced military machine in
European history; Al Qaeda doesn't have a single tank.
Al Qaeda is a threat and must be defeated, but the
president has failed to explain with any conviction why
that should entail a military onslaught in
and the remaking of that country. The President keeps
saying we are not involved in "nation building" but
it's looking more and more like nation wrecking.
The problem is Obama knows all this. He reads books. He
knows history. He has the ability to surround himself
with knowledgeable and creative people capable of
coming up with proposals to solve the real problems of
the twenty first century. Yet, he all too often comes
across as wanting to have it all ways.
It's no doubt true that the prime motivation for
awarding Obama the Nobel Prize was the fact that he is
not George W. Bush and that's good enough reason for
me. Most of the world breathed a fulsome sigh of relief
when the latter was sent back to the ranch. Obama "has
changed the conversation internationally by moving the
US back towards a preference for multilateralism," said
the Financial Times. "He is right, moreover, to argue
that the search for peace is not the same as the
practice of pacifism. `The belief that peace is
desirable is rarely enough to achieve it,' he said.
more troops, may turn out to be a forlorn enterprise.
But it is not illegitimate warmongering.
"Yet, for his ringing
peacemongering - rather than a retreat into a shallow
realism he rejected - things really do need to start happening.
"Promoting nuclear disarmament and preventing the
spread of atomic weapons - `a centerpiece of my foreign
policy'- may advance through Mr. Obama's bold
orderly withdrawal from
unyielding, yet vulnerable regime in
that satisfies the security concerns of all in the
region and prevents a new war. To that end, it would
help if the
Palestinian state, the real guarantee of
The paper goes on to say that Obama has got to come to
"intellectual grips with the challenges the world and
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice
is a writer in
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly
worked for a healthcare union.