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bigtree Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Dec-10-09 03:27 PM
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Justifying War in Oslo
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BARACK OBAMA wrapped his militarism in a blanket of history in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway. He spoke with the detachment of a professor lecturing students about a "living testimony" to the "moral force" of the teachings of King and Gandhi who just happened to be commander-in-chief over dual, bloody occupations. War and peace, in Mr. Obama's presentation, were inseparably intertwined throughout history with America rising above it all - virtuous and correct in the flexing of our military muscle abroad in this age, because of our righteousness in the defining wars we waged with our allies against the Third Reich and Japan. That American virtue, in Mr. Obama's estimation, is evident by our leadership in setting the terms of international patronage, diplomacy, and "just' war.

Mr. Obama began his speech by attempting to rationalize the obvious contradiction of a wartime president accepting a 'peace' prize. He downplayed the occupation in Iraq he has prolonged, distanced himself from the one he just redefined and escalated in Afghanistan, and declared himself responsible for, and "filled with questions" surrounding his sending of 'young Americans' to fight and die abroad.

President Obama:

. . . perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief 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; one in which we are joined by 43 other countries including Norway in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.


In answering his own questions, the president recited his own view of our nation's war history in which our military victories over the aggression of Japan and Germany established the U.S. as the moral arbiter of future conflicts.


For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. 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 total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

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. 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 and restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War.


Nonetheless, the president next acknowledged the civil, ethnic, and sectarian conflicts around the world, which he observed are on the rise, without mention of our own nation's part in fueling, funding, and deliberately or clumsily exacerbating many of those into perpetuity.

In Iraq, the war that the president insists is 'winding down', our nation's invasion and overthrow of the sovereign government was the catalyst to the chaos and civil and sectarian unrest and violence which was punctuated last week with the killing of over 120 civilians by a lone bomber. Our military forces' inability to stifle or eliminate the killings there, despite our "surged-up", lingering occupation is a less than ringing endorsement of some inherent wisdom behind the opportunistic exercise of our dominating, devastating military forces abroad.

The president admitted his own lack of a 'definitive solution' to it all. Absent that solution, the president says we must be prepared to act when we feel that war is 'justified'.

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.

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 have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. 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 and children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. 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.

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


It's obvious what the president is alluding to here. There aren't many who would question America's pursuit of justice in the wake of the 9-11 plane crashes. Chasing bin-Laden and his cohorts into Afghanistan, and the rout of his Taliban accomplices to Pakistan was a reasonable response to most looking on.

Yet, there's a question of how much of the president's militarism today in Afghanistan can be justified as part and parcel of that original pursuit; or even integral to some defense of our national security as defined in the original authorization to use military force. That didn't stop Mr. Obama from casting his self-escalated role in Afghanistan as a menage between King, Gandhi, and his inner warrior.

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

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 nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaidas leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the worlds sole military superpower.


That 'ambivalence' to military action the president represents as universal to any conflict, is fiction, at least in America. Our nation's citizens didn't start out ambivalent to chasing bin-Laden into Afghanistan. They became ambivalent when that effort was distorted into opportunistic nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan; all the while with the fugitive terror suspects that were at the heart and soul of the military mission left free to instigate and motivate violent resistance against our nation's strident military presence and activity across sovereign borders, mostly by the virtue of their freedom from justice.

The nation became ambivalent when those occupations, in turn, were escalated to facilitate the politics behind the propped-up regimes our nation's defenders sacrificed and languished in these foreign countries to defend and preserve in assumed power and authority over the hapless populations.

The suspicion of America's military force abroad was born in the 'extraordinary renditions' by our military and intelligence agencies; and in the indefinite imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans without charges or counsel - many held and tortured as in Gitmo - many tortured and disappeared in 'black sites' in compliant nations.

Many are suspicious of this president's escalation of force in Afghanistan against the Taliban there. We've been told by the administration and the military that there are relatively few individuals thought to be in Afghanistan who are al-Qaeda. Yet the U.S. military aggression there in defense of the regime we helped ascend to power in a corrupt election is directed against an entirely different 'enemy' who is operating against the U.S. 'interest' in our maintaining of the ethically-challenged regime in dominance over whoever there recognizes and is affected by America's beneficent-but-poison paternalism.

. . . the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions not just treaties and declarations that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other people's children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

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 soldiers courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human folly.


So we mustn't 'trumpet' war, we should trumpet our benevolence and patronage instead - which Mr. Obama believes is the true expression of our 'will' as Americans. War is just an inconvenient inevitability to the president and the best we can do is to be beneficent and muddle through . . . like we've done throughout the history he describes.

If the president has his way with the dual occupations, he will end one and win the other. It's no matter to him that he contradicts the very reasons he once spoke out in protest against the Iraq invasion and occupation with the justifications he uses for continuing to pursue both to some 'successful' end. He'll presumably pull our troops out of Iraq without any regard at all for the increased violence there or without concern about staging a continued defense of the politics and voting there which was supposed to be central to the reasons for his foot-dragging exit. Reports today were that the military is satisfied, as is the administration, that none of the recent developments and political setbacks will delay their planned drawdown of about half of the 100,000-strong force there. That's as it should be. The U.S. forces are useless to the cause of 'keeping the peace' between the feuding Iraqis, Kurds, and others. Whatever 'moral' influence anyone hoped to assert there behind the force of our military has been terminally corrupted from the start and aggravated by the collateral consequences and effects of the shock and awe of our opportunistic occupation.

All of this folly still festering in Iraq - the president anxious to cut the losses and end the occupation- and the best he can imagine for those retreating forces is to join his new, escalated folly in Afghanistan. What was notable about the President Obama's speech in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize was how much of it was centered on justifying war; just wars, in his estimation. It's safe to say that his actions and decisions regarding Afghanistan were at the forefront of his excuses. American exceptionalism reigns supreme in his elevated view and his own militarism is to be seen by others as no exception to the history of America's 'just' wars.

At the end of his address, the president quoted Martin Luther King Jr.'s remarks at his own Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance . . .

As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago: "I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him . . . We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace . . .


It's understandable that President Obama would want to justify his own duplicity between his stated ideals against 'dumb wars' with a declaration of a pursuit of peace behind his escalation of military force in Afghanistan. But King wasn't trying to reconcile the contradiction between a wartime president who's escalated an occupation and a peace-seeker. King's answer to the dilemma the president faces was non-violence. His own acceptance speech was a promotion of peace and love, not a litany of excuses for militarism.

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy," King said in 1967. "Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."

And, so it goes.
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