Sunday, December 13, 2009

drive the dark of doubt away

*** WARNING: this is a very looooong post, i suggest taking it in smaller bites. It may be easier to digest that way.

Obama accepting his Nobel Peace Prize with a speech defending the US's foreign policy on the legitimate use of force internationally is... an interesting choice to say the least.

Let's dissect his speech, shall we?

He says: In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela - my accomplishments are slight. 

Good on him for acknowledging that. I guess its my primary beef with the whole prize. Not even Ghandi recieved it. Not to mention the various NGO's, humanitarian volunteers, and relief workers. How can you give an award to someone is anticipation of what they are going to do? 

Then he says:  I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

Again, good on him for discussing this. Big ups to his speech writers. But simply addressing an issue doesn't make it all better. He goes on to say that war has been a huge part of history, but he specifies that it is unjust war. So now Afghanistan is a just war? He makes reference to genocide, talks about the Cold War, and reminds us all of World War I and II. 

But then we get to the juicy argument stuff: The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Ah yes, American's and their terrorism. What kind of speech would it be if an American president didnt mention terrorism? (I should say that I recognize terrorism is a very real and dangerous threat for many people across the world, but, somehow I get the feeling Obama is referencing the very limited American experience and perception of it, as opposed to acknowledging that terrorism is a definition given to groups who perform acts of violence against others and those acts are widely considered illegitimate. Legitimacy are very much so in the eyes of the beholder in this case.)

And yet, he goes on: We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

First, wow, way to stay positive. Heaven forbid you dare to dream or aim high. Second, I think we can all agree that when an Nation or group goes to war, someone is going to die as a direct result of that war. Even if it is one person, killing someone through violent conflict will never be acceptable to me. Never. He goes on to quote Martin Luther King Jr. who says that war can never completely solve a problem, and I most definitely agree with that. As a head of state Obama is in the unique opportunity to promote positive change. I understand the United States as always fundamentally been against finding the most rational and peaceful solution (Let's all take a moment to remember their "Revolution" against the British, and then many years later, their reaction to Communism during the Cold War. Neither speak of their capacity for rationality). However, he says that it is his job to protect the way of life of the American people, and protect them from threat. He argues that force and conflict can be a necessity, and that others will not listen to peaceful reason. Ok, fair enough point, but he's defending a way of life that is a threat to so many other people. 

Then theres more:  not just treaties and declarations - that brought stability to a post-World War II world. 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.

Great. Should we all stand up and applaud you now with thanks? What he doesn't mention are the results of those actions. How successful does he think elections in Iraq were? And remind me how implementing your own unique brand of democracy in another country is not imposing your beliefs? I will concede that sometimes intervention is necessary. But there is such a thing as peaceful intervention, which is what international bodies like the United Nations work with, and what all international policy is based on. As a member of the UN the US has responsibility to remember and respect that. Intervention should come only when a country asks for it, or else you run the very terrible risk of infringing on a state's sovereignty. 

He says a few more somewhat encouraging things, like: America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. 

But then goes on to make me a hate him a little with: I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Yes, the US certainly has been a standard of excellence in terms of waging war. Note though that while he is promoting positive changes, and the revolutionary idea of following international rules, he does not once condemn previous policy. He doesn't say that what was happening before was wrong. That may be a problem in the future... 

He does talk about ways to promote peace, and they are somewhat encouraging. (It would be more so encouraging if he hadn't just spent the past 5 minutes justifying war, but hey, what can you do) I agree that a more unified and direct approach should be taken when addressing atrocities in nations. The promotion of Human Rights should most definitely be a priority, and once achieved internationally I believe it will create long lasting peace. Not to mention the whole freedom from fear and freedom from want bit. Most definitely a key thing in finding peace in a nation, and sadly, often overlooked. How can a country be successful when the population doesn't have the opportunity to maintain and sustain themselves economically? I'm glad he recognized the different forms peace takes. 

Though he says towards the end: As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we all basically want the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families. And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities - their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion.

This is good stuff! This is what international relations should be based on! There are so many questions to be asked and answered with these statements - where to begin? I would have liked him to put forth a prescription for how to address that concern instead of wasting all of our time with the whole right to war nonsense. How do you preserve someones unique identity in an increasingly global world? Can we truly unite while maintaining individuality? Does the US see itself making concessions to accommodate other cultures on the international stage? Do concessions even need to be made? Like I said... so many questions! That paragraph of his speech alone is enough for another speech. It's enough for a masters dissertation even. 

I do believe what comes next is a little contradictory: For if we lose that faith - if we dismiss it as silly or na├»ve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace - then we lose what is best about humanity.

Didn't he say a while back that the world should realize that we wont eradicate violence in this lifetime? and that peace and war are not mutually exclusive in that one cannot exist without the other? What about his faith in the possibility of peace? Call me an idealist Obama, but I have faith that peace is possible without the use of force or violence, and that damn well better be possible in my lifetime. 

He then closes with: We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that - for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Spoken like a true God. Yes there will still be war, but that doesn't mean there HAS to be. There are choices,  and just because things have been done a certain way to date, does not mean they have to continue that way. Don't limit yourself and the world, Obama. Yes to hope and work towards that hope encourages progress, and I agree that we have to work toward that challenge, but that doesn't mean that hope cannot become a reality and accepted part of everyday life. 

Overall, he's saying that peace comes at a price, but I would much rather see that price in the number of treaties signed than in bodies counted. 

(You can read the whole speech for yourself here).

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