09
Oct
09

Disentangling the giant

Glenn Greenwald sums up nicely the objection to Obama’s Peace Prize shocker:

Beyond Afghanistan, Obama continues to preside over another war — in Iraq:  remember that? — where no meaningful withdrawal has occurred.  He uttered not a peep of opposition to the Israeli massacre of Gazan civilians at the beginning of this year (using American weapons), one which a U.N. investigator just found constituted war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.  The changed tone to Iran notwithstanding, his administration frequently emphasizes that it is preserving the option to bomb that country, too — which could be a third war against a Muslim country fought simultaneously under his watch.  He’s worked tirelessly to protect his country not only from accountability — but also transparency — for the last eight years of war crimes, almost certainly violating America’s treaty obligations in the process.  And he is currently presiding over an expansion of the legal black hole at Bagram while aggressively demanding the right to abduct people from around the world, ship them there, and then imprison them indefinitely with no rights of any kind.

It’s certainly true that Obama inherited, not started, these conflicts.  And it’s possible that he could bring about their end, along with an overall change in how America interacts with the world in terms of actions, not just words.  If he does that, he would deserve immense credit — perhaps even a Nobel Peace Prize.  But he hasn’t done any of that.  And it’s at least as possible that he’ll do the opposite:  that he’ll continue to escalate the 8-year occupation of Afghanistan, preside over more conflict in Iraq, end up in a dangerous confrontation with Iran, and continue to preserve many of the core Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies that created such a stain on America’s image and character around the world.

Through no fault of his own, Obama presides over a massive war-making state that spends on its military close to what the rest of the world spends combined.  The U.S. accounts for almost 70% of worldwide arms sales.  We’re currently occupying and waging wars in two separate Muslim countries and making clear we reserve the “right” to attack a third.  Someone who made meaningful changes to those realities would truly be a man of peace.  It’s unreasonable to expect that Obama would magically transform all of this in nine months, and he certainly hasn’t.  Instead, he presides over it and is continuing much of it.  One can reasonably debate how much blame he merits for all of that, but there are simply no meaningful “peace” accomplishment in his record — at least not yet — and there’s plenty of the opposite.  That’s what makes this Prize so painfully and self-evidently ludicrous.

It’s quite possible that, as many have suggested, this is the Nobel Committee trying to force Obama to live up to his very nice rhetoric, which to date has not been matched by his actions. And I will say that I understand the case Gary Wills was trying to make in the Oct. 8 New York Review of Books:

A president is greatly pressured to keep all the empire’s secrets. He feels he must avoid embarrassing the hordes of agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments whose loyalty he must command. Keeping up morale in this vast, shady enterprise is something impressed on him by all manner of commitments. He becomes the prisoner of his own power. As President Truman could not not use the bomb, a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only Commander in Chief but Leader of the Free World. He is a self-entangling giant.

The world has just put a little pressure on Obama to disentangle himself. By making some very nice speeches about new beginnings with the Islamic world and nuclear disarmanent, he’s indicating that he’s interested in trying. We’ll see what comes of all this.

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