Saturday, December 19, 2009

Obama's Nobel Speech Comes Up Short

Obama's Nobel Speech Comes Up Short


By Carl Bloice,

Black Commentator

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 Afghanistan. Intellectually it came up short.


The editors at the Financial Times called the Oslo

speech "a robust defense of liberal interventionism."

In the pages of Asia Times, Jim Lobe described the

speech as having "enunciated a worldview that places

him squarely within the realist and liberal

internationalist thinking that dominated post-World War

II US foreign policy - at least until his predecessor's

`global war on terror'."


"In asserting before the Nobel Academy that `evil does

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 US in concert with its allies,

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 U.S. has always

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

United States of America has helped underwrite global

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 Germany to Korea,

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 Washington's role

in the overthrow of governments in Iran, Guatemala,

Indonesia, Nicaragua and Chile and its propping up for

decades reactionary regimes in Asia, the Middle East,

Africa and Latin America. The bone of contention in

nearly all these cases was access to the natural

resources of the country involved. The world could

hardly have forgotten that the U.S. took up the French

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 U.S. State Department called

"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

suspicion of America, the world's sole military

superpower." The people of Latin America have reason to

be wary and the people of Africa have just cause to be

alarmed that the U.S. is moving to set up Africom - a

new structure of military operations on that continent.


I'd be greatly surprised if alarm bells didn't go off

all over Latin America last week when increasingly neo-

con sounding Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned

governments there of possible "consequences" resulting

from their relations with Iran and lecturing them on

how to deal with China. She also claimed that the

Administration's weak-kneed response to the military

coup in Honduras has been "pragmatic, principled" and

"multilateral."  If that's the kind of new liberal

interventionism elucidated in Obama's Oslo speech, the

world doesn't need it.


Second, the Obama speech willfully distorted the nature

of the conflict in Afghanistan and the Administration's

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 Afghanistan and Pakistan.


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 Afghanistan

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.

Afghanistan, to which he has just dispatched 30,000

more troops, may turn out to be a forlorn enterprise.

But it is not illegitimate warmongering.


"Yet, for his ringing Oslo speech to translate into

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

engagement with Russia. He also needs to complete an

orderly withdrawal from Iraq, and somehow engage an

unyielding, yet vulnerable regime in Tehran in a way

that satisfies the security concerns of all in the

region and prevents a new war. To that end, it would

help if the US and its allies push hard for a viable

Palestinian state, the real guarantee of Israel's

future security."


The paper goes on to say that Obama has got to come to

"intellectual grips with the challenges the world and

the U.S. faces. It is time for some follow through."

______ Editorial Board member Carl Bloice

is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National

Coordinating Committee of the Committees of

Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly

worked for a healthcare union.


No comments: