Saturday, December 12, 2009


Following is a very abbreviated and edited version of President Obama's speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Wednesday, December 9, 2009. Words between brackets are by Mad Plato.

Yes, President Obama's speech was well-written,
"But he has unwittingly stacked the deck in favor if [sic] the military-industrial complex by adopting Bushian rhetoric at key junctures--speaking of enemies as 'evil,' militarizing the response to terrorism, and asserting false equivalences that help make war seem inevitable. Obama has yet to decide whether he is a visionary or a technocrat. The prize committee hoped for the former. In this speech they got the latter."
Professor Juan Cole

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world
[And all extraterrestrials]:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations---that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice
[Or tragedy, more blood, and more death].

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated.
In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage
[Thank you Mr. Shakespeare].
Compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize
[Am I saying that I'm a giant?]
---Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela---my accomplishments are slight
[But not slanted].

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek [But whose seeds were planted and then once sown, the devastating debris of fallen NY Towers quickly removed to conceal evidence. Why?];
one in which we are joined by 42 other countries---including Norway---in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.
[Is this accurate? Are we a world power who cannot protect our own borders, but must invade, occupy, and fight others in their own country? Can’t we stop insurgents at our ports and borders? Why should we expend dollars and blood on foreign soil instead of keeping both on our own shores?].

Still, we are at war [and making war], and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict---filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
[But War will be the Victor over Peace…and I will wax poetic and philosophical about this.]

Now these questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man
[Well, men made it appear. It wasn’t just spontaneous magic].

At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned
[But how can we know this? You and I weren’t there];
it was simply a fact, like drought or disease---the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war [Here we go again, the government regulating something!].

The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense
[But is the current “war” in Afghanistan either of these?];
if the force used is proportional,
[Proportional to what and whom? Are drones which kill citizens a proportional

and if whenever possible civilians are spared from violence
[This is the same thing that is always droned about when discussing the topic of war].

Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of "just war" was rarely observed
[And we seem to continue to practice this concept].

The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations
[And in the not so distant future…between other worlds!]---
total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred.
In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war.
[But what was really needed was to throw the Masters of War INTO INSTITUTIONS!]

And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations---an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize---America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons
[And how successful was this architecture?].

Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War.
[But this is because it might mean the end of Civilization as we know it.]
The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall
[Just not Pink Floyd’s Wall].

Commerce has stitched much of the world together.
[But Frankenstein is still ALIVE!]

And yet, a decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. 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
[And, if necessary, allows a few big men with outsized rage to murder innocents on an even more horrific and technological scale].

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states---all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos.
[And trapped us as we continue to invade, occupy, and inspire new insurgents in these nations.]

In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred
[But we shall remain in Afghanistan!].

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war.
[I am not a Messiah as some have accused me to be.]

What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace
[But not just to think, but to continue to act upon these new ways of war. It’s peace that we’re thinking about.]

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.
[Let’s be realists, not pessimists, optimists, or pacifists.]

There will be times when nations---acting individually or in concert
[with music blasting loud and ugly]---will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified
[But is force necessary, moral, or effective in Afghanistan?].

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones."
[Won’t this also occur in Afghanistan?]

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak---nothing passive ---nothing naïve---in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
[But their creeds will not win wars!]

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided
[Or ruled]
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. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism---it is a recognition of history
[And historical inevitability];
the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Furthermore, America---in fact, no nation---can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves.
[Rules like not using WMD whether they be Nuclear Weapons or Depleted Uranium].

For when we don't, our actions appear arbitrary
[Are you listening Dick Cheney and George W. Bush?]
and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified.

And this becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor
[When it is for securing the flow of oil and the protection of Israel].

More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.
[Why do WE have to confront these questions that are not our problem, but ones which we in fact may have engendered?]

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That's why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

[The foregoing was again a variation on the theme of War is Peace and Peace is War.]

I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility.
[And War]
Peace entails sacrifice.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it [Drones…Depleted Uranium…Phosphorous bombs…].

The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant---the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.
Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war.
[If we can be number one in Basketball we can be number one in 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. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.
[We can fight, and will. We can fight with dignity and "by the rules."]

And we honor ---we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.
[Just like the saying says, "War is Hell."]

I have spoken at some length to the question that must weigh on our minds and our hearts [And our wallets] as we choose to wage war. But let me now turn to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.
One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament.
[And so why did we allow and help India to obtain Nuclear Weapons?]

Let us reach for the world that ought to be---that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls
[And which will continue to ignite, combust, and fuel War as we wax philosophical and poetical on Peace].

Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace.
[Hold these two thoughts in your mind at the same time...War and Peace…War is Peace…Peace is War.]

We can do that---for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth
[Heaven can and must wait].

Thank you very much.



The Road to Re-Election Runs Through Kabul?


By Christian Parenti

December 7, 2009

The real goals of the Afghanistan escalation are domestic and electoral. Like Lyndon Johnson, who escalated in Vietnam, Obama lives in mortal fear of being called a wimp by Republicans.

To cover his flank and look tough in the next US election, Obama is expanding the war in Afghanistan. To look strong in front of swing voters, he will sacrifice the lives of hundreds of US soldiers, allow many more to be horribly maimed, waste a minimum of $30 billion in public money and in the process kill many thousands of Afghan civilians.
It is political theater, nothing else. What are the other possible explanations for Obama's escalation? And why has he pledged to start drawing down the new deployment after only a year of fighting?
Is it to get the job done? To rebuild Afghanistan? To kill Osama bin Laden and crush Al Qaeda? No, all those goals are nearly impossible. And Al Qaeda is too small and internationally defused to destroy.
Some say the Afghanistan war and the escalation are about building a pipeline to export gas from Central Asia. Nonsense--only a maniac would invest large sums of money in building a pipeline there. In the late 1990s the Argentine firm Bridas and the US firm Unocal jockeyed for the right to build such a project. But that dream, always tentative, has evaporated. It will be many decades, at best, before Afghanistan is safe enough to host a new, foreign-owned gas pipeline.
Others say the Afghanistan war is about establishing US military bases to menace China, Russia and Iran. Indeed, because of its occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US now has bases on either side of Iran and small bases in Central Asia. But these do not require this escalation.
The real purpose of these 30,000 soldiers is to make Obama look tough as he heads toward the next US presidential election.
As a landlocked, underdeveloped, fragmented buffer state with few resources, Afghanistan has long served as a means to get at other issues. Consider the history of how the United States has used Afghanistan.
First, during the cold war Jimmy Carter and then Ronald Reagan used the country as the Soviet "bear trap." Later, George W. Bush used it to trampoline into Iraq. The Bush administration discussed regime change in Iraq at one of its first cabinet meetings. Among other things, the administration wanted direct economic control, and indirect geostrategic control, over Iraq's vast oil wealth. That has been partially accomplished, as witnessed by the recent Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell deals there.
The only credible way into Iraq was via Afghanistan. On September 15, 2001, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz actually suggested that the United States skip an invasion of Afghanistan and go directly to Iraq. But that would have made coalition-building impossible. After all, Al Qaeda was in the Taliban's Afghanistan.
So, the Afghan invasion was done--but on the cheap, fast and light. And then for eight years Afghanistan festered as the forgotten other war.
Then came the US presidential elections of 2008. Obama promised to end the Iraq War. But living in fear of being called a wimp, he too used Afghanistan. It became a rhetorical charm, political mojo in his masculine war dance: he promised to lose Iraq (withdrawal, or redeployment if you prefer) but to do so while salvaging our national honor by winning the "necessary" war in Afghanistan. In short, he used Afghanistan to show that we was not the soft, meek, scared little Democrat portrayed in GOP spin.
Wait, you say, most Americans want out of Afghanistan! So what?
Presidential elections are not decided by the majority of voters but rather by swing voters, in swing states. By "Reagan Democrats" and "Clinton conservatives." By a sliver of older, whiter, middle- and working-class men and (less so) women, in rural and suburban Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Tennessee, Michigan, etc.
This demographic has a strong sense of national honor, a fondness for the military, a traditional sense of masculinity and the role of violence in ordering the world, and perhaps a too-simple view of international politics. Obama feels he must go to the polls able to tell them he was not afraid to fight, that he made a good effort in Afghanistan.
Never mind the reality of the war. What will it look like? Nay, what will it feel like to swing voters? Will they believe that the young black president with the funny Muslim name cut and ran?
There is nothing else to Obama's Afghanistan strategy. The war is a lost cause but a useful story. Victory in Afghanistan is re-election in 2012.
But the ghost of LBJ's re-election surrender in 1968 stalks the young president. The irony is that if Obama cannot claim progress and begin drawing down in time, his Afghanistan gamble may backfire and cost him a second term in the White House. And, if the escalated war grinds on and on, the expense--which some speculate could reach hundreds of billions of dollars over ten years--would badly damage Obama's ability to invest in progressive domestic spending.
Whatever the outcome, Obama has made it clear: he is willing to kill to get re-elected.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have come to the sad conclusion that Obama may be more like Bush than Bush himself when it comes to foreign policy. Whereas Bush was a puppet of Cheney and Rumsfelt, Obama seems to represent himself.