TS 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 the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing.
He is indeed a miracle man. Getting elected as America’s first-ever African-American president was 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 was even a bigger miracle. His selection as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was an unexpected honour and a big ‘surprise’ for Obama himself. But he did not hesitate to go to Oslo to collect his prize in December 2009 to become the third serving US president to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The other two sitting American presidents to receive 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 that ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied powers after the First World War. In Obama’s case, the Nobel Committee cited him for “his extraordinary efforts in creating a new climate in international politics and strengthening diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” This must be the biggest joke of this century. The only “extraordinary” efforts he can be credited with are those that have been prolonging the global legacy of war and conflict.
President Obama is good at making eloquent speeches. He made one at the Capitol Hill in January 2009 as his inaugural address after taking oath as America’s first African-American president in its history. Speaking of his “terrible legacy” of multiple challenges including costly wars, global image erosion, and shattered economy, he vowed then that these challenges will be met” and promised a new America to the Americans and to the world, an America which would be at peace with itself and with the rest of the world.
Eleven months later, he had a different script of eloquence altogether for his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo’s City Hall. He forgot what he had said in his inaugural address while running down his predecessor, George W Bush. 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.”
In Oslo, as a Nobel Laureate, Obama was sounding fury and smelling gunpowder. From being a global peacemaker, he turned his Nobel moment into an “unapologetic defence of war.” He was at his Hegelian best in proclaiming 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 and evil must be fought with evil”, he declared. This was a new Obama with a new doctrine sanctifying the medieval concept that noble ends justified ignoble means.
It must have been a jarring moment for his selected audience at the ceremony when Obama 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.” Obama’s Oslo doctrine smacked of the neocon dogma that must have shamed even Alfred Nobel’s ghost who, in his lifetime, had invented dynamite but in his will he recognised that weapons bring no peace. Obama’s belligerence was certainly at odds with the spirit bequeathed by Alfred Nobel.
Today, even Americans must be filled with self-reproach on their president carrying an honour he never earned. His Nobel ‘citation’ is in tatters. He has been keeping the old conflicts alive while also waging new wars. Soon after entering the White House, Obama escalated CIA-operated drone attacks into Pakistan. Even though they were aimed at suspected al Qaeda or Taliban havens, they constituted blatant violation of the UN Charter and Pakistan’s territorial integrity. Only days before receiving his Nobel, Obama ordered fresh military surge of additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan.
It then took him four years to withdraw those troops but a significant number of them are still there. The Afghan peace is nowhere in sight. The situation in Iraq is no different. The illegal war is over but anarchy and chaos reign supreme in that hapless country. In this grim scenario, President Obama now wages a new war against the so-called Islamic State which he touts as a threat to “the people of Iraq and Syria and the broader Middle East — including American citizens, personnel and facilities”. In a recent speech, he unveiled his new war strategy that according to him will “degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
The new war strategy has no time limit and as in the case of Iraq war, it bypasses the UN and will be implemented through a ‘coalition of the willing’ partners ostensibly with limited American involvement in military terms. It involves ‘smart power’ with the US providing ‘training, intelligence and equipment’ to those fighting the IS. Ironically, the ‘fratricidal’ war will be funded by the oil-rich Gulf states, notably the known Trojan Horses, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. No wonder, Obama assured his own people: “No need of anxiety syndrome, get on with your life, let your (Nobel) commander-in-chief handle this.”
It’s a deja vu scenario whereby a monster is created only as an alibi to wage a war in the name of that monster with larger geopolitical objectives. The reality of the Taliban and now the IS seems to have the same script: Muslims fighting proxy wars. The only difference with this war is that it will pit Muslims against Muslims through flared up sectarianism in the region. The US continues to bypass the UN and also undermine its Charter.
Whatever the endgame, the new war strategy will not be without far-reaching implications for peace, regionally as well as globally. It seems that Obama is again on the wrong side of history. Surely, his fellow-democrat Nobel Laureate president Woodrow Wilson’s ghost doesn’t have to come and remind him 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.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2014.