How America won the Nobel Peace Prize

How America won the Nobel Peace Prize

Having been nominated for the peace prize after only ten days in office; having spent the previous three weeks as a president-elect who silently monitored the slaughter in Gaza; and having just assumed the role of commander-in-chief in two wars, for Barack Obama to then craft a credible way to accept an accolade as this year’s most celebrated man of peace, was always going to demand some rhetorical creativity.

Still, this surely ranks as a first: to use the peace prize ceremony as an opportunity to justify war.

Speaking in Oslo last night, Obama said: “the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.”

Only within a nation that has largely managed to insulate itself from the effects of war could such a statement be made.

Sixty-four years earlier, in the shadow of two world wars, Americans had a much greater interest in condemning war than in presenting arguments for its justification.

“… our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Robert H Jackson, on August 12, 1945, when laying out the foundation for the Nuremberg Trials.

On that basis, every war that the United States has fought since World War Two has been branded as a war of necessity — not a war of aggression. Likewise the war that Obama has now made his own is one that he claims to be both necessary, just, and unavoidable. Yet its justness rests on a logical non sequitur: the war in Afghanistan is just because of 9/11.

To say “because of 9/11” is both to present a reason and to simultaneously seal that reason inside a locked box. The logical connection between 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan is apparently so direct and unswerving that even now, those who voice skepticism are generally viewed as either un-American, irrational or naive.

Even so, on September 11, 2001, few Americans had the conviction that this country, out of necessity, was about to go war. President Bush had to present a logical and moral argument and he did so by enunciating what became the first iteration of the Bush doctrine and the foundation for the war on terrorism: “we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

On that basis, the Bush administration constructed a legal argument for bombing Afghanistan and killing thousands of people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks.

The unspoken truth was that the US government enacted and the American people supported a war of vengeance. Had the lust for reprisal been tempered with foresight of the carnage and chaos that the following eight years would bring, America’s war of necessity might have been seen then as no more necessary than it is widely seen now.

The “necessity” that took America to war in Afghanistan is no different than the choice Israel makes when it bulldozes the family home of a suicide bomber. This accords with the ancient principle of settling scores, rebalancing power, and reasserting a position of dominance. It’s about showing your enemies and showing the world that you remain top dog. And therein lies the intractability of this war. More troops have to sent in now to buy time for Obama to figure how, without loss of face to himself or this country, the troops can be pulled out later.

As the US president reflects on the principles of a just war, he’s sending young American men and women overseas on the promise that they’re heading out on a path that should bring them back home.

Remember when Obama talked about ending the mindset that took us to war?

I do, but apparently he doesn’t.

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  1. I wonder if any previous recipients of the Nobel will send it back. The committee has cheapened it morally. It would be a big sacrifice for any of them — but at least some should express disappointment.


  2. I couldn’t stomach more than parts of two short excerpts of his speech. Is his capacity for hypocrisy really as boundless as it seems? Is his “understanding” of American foreign policy as brainwashed as it seems? Who the hell is this clown really? And when am I going to be able to stop lowering my opinion of him?

  3. You’ve got it right; vengeance and oil transit.

    We haven’t got OBL (he’s been dead for 8 years); so no vengeance.

    To get the rights (and protection) for the pipeline, you have to negotiate with, maybe, dozens of tribal groups, pay them and so on.

    If it’s ever built, the US will be protecting it forever

  4. Phillip Wilder says

    Peace is war is war is peace – the historical experience seems to teach no one in government any longer –

  5. estebanfolsom says

    war is always
    a failure of diplomacy
    nothing to be proud of
    on the contrary
    it only brings shame
    to the participants
    and needless suffering
    to the innocents
    never rejoice in it

  6. Dragan Karabasevic says

    modern policy is ‘non sequitur’, which means irrational, to rhe roots. remember bush’s ‘gut policy’? problem is that irrationality is spreading beyond policy, like flu, so at the moment we ended up with peace prize from the gut. what is next, policy from the intestine?

  7. Paul — what this article (nor the critics in general) get, is that his speech’s main point is not about ‘defending war’ — its about how war (human conflict) and peace among countries (and amongst people in general) will always exist and that — realistically speaking — while one should strive for peace there will always be a time for both.

  8. Thomas M Ricks says

    It’s all about the proverbial “slippery slope”, President Obama. You started down that course by your unearthy and immoral silence as US-assisted military aid went airborne with those Israeli jets and heliocopters and missiles over Gaza in Dec. 2008 and Jan. 2009 (and ever since) with the collective silence of the EU and other quartet members. Those three weeks sealed “your fate” as a person of principle and a leader of real vision (not verbal) for me…and many, many others.
    By the time I heard your words from the Nobel podium, I was no longer hoping for the “change” that you so eloquently spoke of in 2008 and so sadly trashed in 2009. In an odd way, you did one good thing in your ignoble Nobel speech and that was to confirm that you have feet of clay after all is said and done, and, I can barely believe that I am writing this, that you are really no better than either Bush presidents…and a number of others.