Friday, December 04, 2009

The war of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Oslo - US President Barack Obama has scratched items from the agenda surrounding his upcoming date to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo, the Nobel Committee in the Norwegian capital Oslo reported Friday. A previously planned press conference before the ceremony on December 10 is to be cancelled, while a short press conference after Obama's meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is also likely to be cut.

The US president's various domestic and international political commitments were given as the justification for the cancellations. (US World News)

It would be false to say that I am disappointed in how the first year of the Obama presidency has gone. Disappointment is a feeling that comes about when one was expecting something that did not come to pass. Unfortunately, the Obama presidency has turned out so far to be pretty much as I thought it would turn out. During the Democratic primaries, he seemed to have the least well-thought-out plans for health care reform. He consistently said he would take troops out of Iraq and put them into Afghanistan. His rhetoric on the importance of “finishing the job” in Afghanistan worried me throughout his campaign. His apparently commitment to the notion that “finishing the job” of hunting down Osama bin Ladin seemed naive, superficial, ill considered and ignorant of history. Of all the candidates in the Democratic primaries in the early stages of the campaign, I thought I could probably live with almost any of them, but there were two who worried me and who would, I hoped, be quickly eliminated from the race. Those two were Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. When they were the only two left standing, I backed Hillary, reluctantly at first and then more enthusiastically as I got to know her (and her opponent) better. When Obama was chosen as the Democratic candidate, I began to think seriously about voting for Ralph Nader. If I had not panicked at the possibility of having Sarah Palin as a vice president, I might well have voted for Nader—or written in the name of Dennis Kucinich. I am neither surprised nor disappointed in Obama. I am, however, sick at heart.

Obama's feeble leadership in the the area of health care reform has led to limp bills that, if passed, will result in few positive changes. When House Minority Leader John Boehner speaks of the government takeover of the health care industry, I can only groan and say “If only the government could take the well-being of the American people out of the hands of rapaciously greedy and under-regulated insurance companies and for-profit health-care providers, we might have a chance to design a system in which caring for all people mattered more than caring for a few wealthy shareholders.” As it is, however, gutless leadership has led to a gutted set of measures that will still leave far too many people unable to afford even basically adequate health care, and will still leave insurance companies under-regulated, and will still leave American medical care overpriced and of the lowest quality among all industrialized nations.

Of all the failures of the Obama administration, there is none that matches the sheer folly of his Afghanistan policy. A couple of months ago at Leiden University I saw a poster advertising a talk by a Dutch political scientist, the title of which was "Afghanistan: De oorlog van Obama." (Afghanistan: Obama's war). That title captures a number of perceptions. The war in Afghanistan is not a war of the people of Afghanistan, nor a war of the people of the United States. Nor is it a war of necessity. Nor is it a war that is possible to win, if only because it is not at all clear what winning even means. It is a war that can only produce losers. Many Afghans will lose their lives; many more will lose their homes and their means of livelihood and their dignity and their self-respect. A few Americans will also die; many more will bear for the rest of their lives the psychological scars of seeing what no human being should ever have to see; even more Americans will continue to lose confidence in the ability of their own government to make rational decisions. America as a nation will continue to lose the respect of its allies. The American economy will continue to lose stability as war debts mount to levels far beyond the ability of any nation to pay. The only gain for America will be a gain in enemies, a dramatic increase in the number of people who are determined to bring American influence to an end and to establish their own autonomy. There is no one else whose war this is; it is indeed Obama's war in much the same way Vietnam became Johnson's war and Iraq the war of George Bush père and George Bush fils. It is another in the long series of wars into which America has been led by presidents obsessed by the demons of bad reasoning and a poor grasp of history.

When President Obama goes to Oslo on December 10 to receive his Nobel Peace Prize, one can only hope that he will hear a small, still voice coming from deep within his heart saying “Man, thou dost not deserve this honor.” Whether he will then be man enough to listen to that voice, admit his errors, turn down the prize and insist it be given to someone more deserving—that remains to be seen.


Anonymous said...

Our wars have not been led only by misguided or ignorant presidents, but (I hate to resort to a truism but there it is):led by the military-industrial complex. These are the two institutions in this country that profit by war, plus the presidents who engage to ally with them and so allow these forces to rule our country.
A few of us are sick at heart--the rest seem only to be preoccupied with biz as usual.