Dec 16, 2009

Obama's 'Nobel' path

By Shamshad Ahmad

T S Eliot was not joking when he said "the Nobel is a ticket to one's own funeral. No one has ever done anything after he got it." President Obama got this ticket too soon in his presidency. Within less than a year after his election as the first-ever non-white US president in more than two hundred years of American history, Obama got this year's Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing.

He is indeed a miracle man. Getting elected as America's first-ever black president was in itself a miracle, but becoming a Nobel peace laureate as head of state of a superpower that is tirelessly fighting wars since after the Second World War is even a bigger miracle. His choice as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was an unexpected honor and a big "surprise" for Obama himself. But he did go to Oslo last week to collect his prize.

There he drew laughter from his hosts when he acknowledged the "considerable controversy" that their generous decision had generated. The son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, Barack Hussein Obama has been on a success path shattering barriers. He entered the White House in what was seen as a barrier cross, and became the first black ever to make this high office in America's history. Now he becomes the third serving US president to have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The other two sitting American presidents to have received this honour were Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, for negotiating an end to a war between Russia and Japan, and Woodrow Wilson in 1919, for the Treaty of Versailles. In Obama's case, the Nobel Committee cited him "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" and said that he had "created a new climate in international politics."

In his acceptance speech at Oslo, President Obama sought to address some of the criticism over his nomination for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. He is good at making eloquent speeches. He made one in January this year known as his inaugural address at the Capitol Hill in which he spoke of his "terrible legacy" in the form of multiple challenges including costly wars, global image erosion, and shattered economy. He vowed then that these challenges will be met."

In Oslo's City Hall, he had a different script of eloquence altogether for his ceremonial acceptance speech. He was repeating the Bush language. He forgot what he had said in his inaugural address while running down the Texas Cowboy. As the newly sworn president, Obama had belittled the Bush era as a "bleak chapter" in America's history, and vowed to restore what he called "our lost sense of common purpose" by acclaiming "America, we are better than these last eight years." .

Across the globe, there was great relief on the prospect of change in America's global policies and outlook. There was a feeling that for the first time since John F Kennedy, America had a different kind of leader. Obama's presence at the White House not only brought a new "facelift" to the US but also embodied hope for change. He promised a new America for the Americans and for the world, an America which would be at peace with itself and with the rest of the world. But there is no sign of the promised change yet.

In Oslo, Obama was a different person altogether. As Nobel Laureate, he was sounding fury and smelling gunpowder. From being a global peace-maker, he turned his Nobel moment into what observers found an "unapologetic defense of war." He was at his Hegelian best when he proclaimed war as an ethical aspect "which ennobles human activity." He justified wars to make peace.

"For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world" he declared while making his case that "evil must be fought with evil." Eleven months into his presidency, this was a new Obama doctrine which amounted to revival of medieval concept that noble ends justified ignoble means. His "belligerence" also smacked of Bush's deific neocon outlook which must have shamed even Alfred Nobel's ghost who in his lifetime had invented dynamite but in his dying will, he recognised that weapons bring no peace.

Obama's new 'hawkish' doctrine must have embarrassed the Nobel Committee for having made a mockery of this year's prize. Even American analysts were filled with self-reproach on seeing their president being given an honour that he didn't deserve. They found it difficult to digest Obama's new belligerent message which was clearly at odds with the spirit bequeathed by Alfred Nobel. He was receiving an honour for peace that is nowhere. As a warrior president, perhaps George W Bush would have made a more deserving Nobel Laureate.

Since he became president, Obama has only escalated CIA-operated drone attacks into Pakistan. Even though they are aimed at suspected Al Qaeda or Taliban havens, they constitute blatant violation of Pakistan's territorial integrity. Only days before receiving his Nobel, Obama had ordered fresh military surge of additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan. No wonder, he was booed by thousands of anti-war protesters outside the Oslo City Hall where he was receiving the prize.

Inside the Hall, it must have been a jarring moment for the selected audience when Obama, in the midst of the ceremony, spoke rather nonchalantly of his troops in Afghanistan: "Some will kill. Some will be killed." He also claimed that "force is sometimes necessary" and that "we will not eradicate conflict in our lifetimes." Earlier this year, he said the US will maintain a nuclear arsenal "as long as these weapons exist." Obama's overbearing candidness must have challenged the Nobel Committee's wisdom. .

By reaching back to the concept of "just war," Obama tried unabashedly to impress his audience by saying that his Nobel credentials were not undeserved. He also signaled to them that after nearly a year in office, his views about the need to resort to force had begun to harden. It was almost certainly not the speech that the Nobel Committee would have expected to hear, nor the one that Obama himself would have imagined delivering six years ago when as a state senator, he had vocally opposed the Iraq war.

In Oslo, Obama justified the "use of force" in "self-defense" or to come to the aid of an invaded nation, on humanitarian grounds. What he did not mention in this context is that the UN Charter (Article 2) obliges all states "to settle disputes by peaceful means, to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."

He should have at least known that under the UN Charter, no country, however powerful or dominant, can resort to pre-emptive or preventive use of force or to any punitive action unless it is authorised by the UN Security Council within the scope of Articles 42 and 51 of the UN Charter. In many ways, even the American media now openly says that the post-9/11 US led wars have been a big mistake. In particular, the Iraq war waged without UN authorization was an illegal war. From being a righteous war when it started, the US war on terror is also now considered a wrong war.

Obama's Nobel moment seems to have come too soon. He has yet to fathom the depth of non-violence preached by Mahatma Gandhi (who never won the Nobel but deserves one even posthumously) and Martin Luther King Jr. (who did, in 1964). But he could not be more derisive of their philosophy when he said "I cannot be guided by their example alone." This is not the language of a Nobel Laureate. He seems to have been possessed by his predecessor's "might is right" vision. He needs visionary correction.

To prove himself worthy of the prize, Obama must establish his "peaceful" credentials. He could do so only by ensuring US withdrawal from Iraq on schedule, ceasing drone strikes across the Durand Line, preparing the ground for withdrawal from Afghanistan in eighteen months as announced, and getting the Palestinians a state by the end of 2011 even through unilateral recognition.

Another Nobel Laureate and a fellow democrat president, Woodrow Wilson's ghost doesn't have to come to remind Obama that to make "the world safe for every peace-loving nation, it must be assured of justice and fair dealing, and that unless justice is done to others it will not be done to us." President Obama's 'Nobel' path line is clearly drawn. He must go ahead and follow it lest history rewards him, like his predecessor, with flying Size 10 Shoes.

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