Obama's Peace Speech

Obama's acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize on December 11, 2009 (Oslo time) included a lot of justifications for war, one of them being the existence of evil in the world. I agree with him that humans are prone to violent aggression and that that nature is not going to disappear in our lifetimes, if ever. He said "I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds," after which he discussed our military intervention in the Balkans. Well, does that "force" necessarily mean military violence? He never discussed another option.

Amazingly, he conjoined the 9/11 attacks with "our efforts in Afghanistan," claiming self-defense; later in the speech he referred to those "who attacked my country from Afghanistan." [This remark was apparently based on a belief that Osama bin Laden, who had been living in Afghanistan as a guest of the Taliban since 1996, and/or the Taliban itself was behind the 9/11 attacks. Later attempts to justify the Iraq invasion with a connection to 9/11 proved specious. Current thinking, unshared by Obama, is that the Taliban were not responsible for 9/11.]

"America's commitment to global security will never waver" is a frightening prospect. We are unable to restore our own democracy, how can we expect to help other countries? The only possible outcome is an extension of colonization and corporate extraction of global resources in the name of American profit. This is not global security in my book.

"Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. . . . We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend." I agree. But it is not enough to return to accord with the Geneva Conventions. We must ensure that our commercial gain does not figure in our intervention, else we compromise any moral high ground.

"Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting." Nice idea. Let's apply this internally to our own country: only a society based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting. Such a society does not currently exist. Is Obama being hypocritical by ignoring this? What might those rights be?

"America has never fought a war against a democracy." Hmm, perhaps, but we have supported the deposement of democratically-elected leaders. The distinction between the two is exceedingly fine.

"A just peace includes not only civil and political rights—it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want." By this definition, America itself has no peace. Is this a "do as I say, not as I do" remark?

"Helping farmers feed their own people—or nations educate their children and care for the sick—is not mere charity." Interesting that many Congress people feel strongly that charity is wrong.

I admired his confrontation of religious violence in the name of God. "No Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint—no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith—for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us."

All in all, an interesting speech. I hesitate to characterize it as well-written. Obama admits we are currently at war and will stay at war while providing grounds for new wars in the future. He spends a few words on the role of international institutions in the achievement and preservation of peace. He acknowledges Martin Luther King Jr. as saying "violence never brings permanent peace," then moves on to conclude "the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace." He declaims religious violence. And totally ignores economic violence. I found his speech disingenuous.

Created: 12-10-2009.