Friday, December 11, 2009

He's No Jesus

Okay, time for another quiz:

What does a president who is responsible for perpetuating two separate but simultaneous wars - one with no end in sight and another that was initially predicated on a pile of misinformation and lies - say when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize?

A.) "I realize how this must look (dry swallow), but I swear I really, really like peace (nervous laughter). Seriously - for the most part - I do."

B.) "If you think this is ironic, you should see my Franklin Mint White Power figurines."

C.) "War is like peace, except with rocket propelled grenades and tons of killing."

D.) "So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another - that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms."

You too, Obama? What in the hell happened to you? What happened to the kinder, gentler version of Hillary? What happened to the assurances of affordable health care, a cleaner environment, and vastly improved public education? What happened to the dovish commander-in-chief with the will, savvy, and moral compass to lead us out of two senseless wars so that we could get on with the business of rebuilding a flagging superpower? What happened to Black Jesus?

And, just in case you've forgotten, Oslo, it's the Nobel PEACE Prize. According to the Nobel Committee, it's supposed to be awarded " the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

It would've been a quaint gesture had the Nobel committee followed their own instructions and given the award to someone who's actually in some way responsible for bringing peace to a parcel of the world over the past year. Or, at the very least, the panel certainly could've awarded it to an individual who hasn't authorized "drone" attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds that have been known to errantly kill innocent civilians. Or, might they have given it to someone who hasn't also authorized the outsourcing of torture to hotbeds of human rights such as Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman? There were other options.

Greg Mortenson is still building schools and promoting literacy for girls in Afghanistan.

Mir Hossein Mousavi is still inciting peaceful insurrection against Iran's oppressive dictatorial regime.

Hell, and if you wanted to add a little glitzy-glammy star power to the award, Brad Pitt is probably the most underrated actor-turned-humanitarian in the world.

Or, with the absence of Mother Theresa, there's always this option, if you wanted to fill the sexy quota for this year's honor.

Or how about this simple criterion: You cannot receive the Nobel Peace Prize if you have in any way, tangentially or not, been responsible for the death of another human being over the past year. Fair enough? No? Well...fuck.

I'm not deliberately trying kick the president when he's down; but I am definitely a stringent advocate of maintaing standards. Giving a rarefied peace award to a wartime president is just stupid, and it only serves to detract from its prestige (like The Learning Channel pandering to America's dumb gene by preempting most of its educational programming with twenty-seven different versions of "American Chopper").

Here's another quote from Obama's acceptance lecture:

"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicated 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."

Which is a powerful, if not valid, proclamation that's worthy of debate, discussion, and circumspection. But save it for a joint session of Congress, an Annapolis graduation ceremony, or even a State of the Union, because it's also a statement that's wholly inappropriate for a venue that has witnessed the pacific entreaties of Ghandi, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Theresa, Dr. King, Elie Wiesel, The Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

We're slapped in the face with the realities of human frailty, indignity, and imperfection every day, but if there exists a venue for the idealistic notion of a world that averts the moral bankruptcy of violent conflict, it should be in the halls of Oslo.

Ironically, Obama even evoked a quote from King's acceptance speech from 1964: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones."

Note the absolutes in King's statement. Note also the absence of qualifiers and preconditions. In other words, note the absence of this:

Violence never brings permanent peace...unless, of course, you're extremely careful against whom you use it - like suspected terrorists, for instance. Then it's okay.

But King's actual Nobel speech offers no quarter for individuals like Obama, who choose to qualify or re-contextualize his words. For a man as morally intractable as M.L.K. Jr., there's no wiggle room; for politicians, statements such as these only offer value to the extent that they can be reinterpreted and ultimately stripped of their value.

Yet in his acceptance speech, Obama implied that King's words were anachronistic and borderline irrelevant to his current course of action:

"...But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms..."

Oh, no: The Hitler card.

It's disappointing that an individual with the refined historical perspective of Obama compares the Al Qaeda terrorist network to Hitler's Third Reich. It's not the same, not even close.

The Third Reich was an omnipotent, destructive behemoth, steamrolling its way through Europe. The Nazis were well on their way to annexing the entire European continent until they were choked by both the U.S. and Russian armies on two separate fronts.

Al Qaeda is a web of loosely affiliated cells, operating mostly within the shadows and crevices of largely unwilling host nations. What makes Obama's comparison even more untenable is Al Qaeda's parasitic nature: It feeds on disillusion, disenfranchisement, poverty, and a tidal wave of anti-Americanism; attempts to bludgeon it with unrestrained military force or "counterinsurgency" have yielded disastrous consequences in both Iraq and Afghanistan, doing more to arouse regional anger and therefore bolster the network's ranks than any recruiting station every could.

Al Qaeda is as much a state of mind as it is a terrorist organization. It thrives on the myth and mystique of American military imperialism. Each American counterinsurgency campaign comes accompanied by another rash of civilian casualties, giving further credence to the half-twisted belief that America is indeed an imminent global threat, which only serves to stoke the ire of future operatives.

Familial, ethnic, and tribal ties are all integral to the the success and longevity of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other loosely affiliated terrorist networks. Ignoring their significance, as we often do, only serves to strengthen their stranglehold on Central Asia.

In his speech, Obama also notes that some wars are "just wars." And if, by "some" he means approximately two (give or take) in the past century, then he's correct.

The allied response to Germany's Third Reich, the Holocaust, and Imperial Japan in World War II was eminently just; the NATO response to Serbian genocide in 1996 was justified; putting the screws to the Sudanese government's Janjaweed death squad goons - chief culprits of the Sudanese genocide - would be morally justified. But how can one designate the interminable conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as "just" when most Americans have no idea why we're there or what's truly at stake - or what the real consequences of inaction might be?

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1 comment:

  1. He seems to be just another talking head now; I'm so disappointed.


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Stop the Inanity. by Brock Cohen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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