Obama's war prize

In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother issues the infamous slogan, “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” Is that where we have now arrived?
President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance lecture in Oslo on Dec 10 — Human Rights Day — was a speech better suited for a war college graduation in a militaristic country like the US. An attempt to legitimise war, it was a mockery of the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was intended to nudge humanity beyond that kind of mentality.

Yet most of the shame belongs to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which is chaired by the former prime minister of a Nato member country, Norway. It sought to justify the three wars in which the US, and the West in general, have become embroiled, and in which Norway is deeply involved with its arms and oil industry.

Obama argued that the nonviolence of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr would not have worked against Hitler or al-Qaeda. Yet the end of the Cold War was brought about by nonviolent demonstrations, notably in Leipzig. The East German police had been given orders to shoot at demonstrators. They waited for a pretext, like someone throwing a stone or a molotov cocktail, but the demonstrators remained totally nonviolent, and the police never found an excuse to shoot. Shortly after, the Berlin wall fell, followed by the Soviet Empire. Nonviolence was also a key factor in bringing an end to the totalitarian regimes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria.
Gandhi and King used nonviolence as their tactic. They were realistic enough to know the human capacity for violence, and idealistic enough to know the human capacity for love, compassion, and finding solutions. Their strategic goal was conflict resolution, presented clearly and persuasively as freedom from colonialism for one, and a dream of integration of races for the other — the dream of which Obama admitted to being a part of.

These conflicts were deeply entrenched, but solutions nevertheless emerged that accommodated all parties relatively well, without great trauma. Their relations changed, and so did the parties themselves, the typical result of a nonviolent struggle.

Even Hitler was persuaded to release Jewish husbands from the Gestapo when their non-Jewish wives and relatives held nonviolent protests at the Rosenstrasse in Berlin in February and March of 1943.

But to stop Hitler, the underlying conflict would have had to be solved. Hitler won popularity with his promise to abrogate the ill-conceived 1919 Versailles Treaty, which had declared Germany solely responsible for World War I and imposed huge reparations payments for the next 50 years. If the treaty had been modified or repealed, for example at a review conference, this would have deprived Hitler of most of his support.

Absence of understanding

A fundamental flaw in Obama’s speech was the absence of any effort to understand 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He only mentioned people unwilling to lay down their arms. Spanish premier Zapatero responded more wisely to the terrorist attack of March 11, 2004, in Madrid by addressing the underlying issues, withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, and dealing with the complex conflict with Morocco.

Obama lacked any conflict analysis. Why were there so many Saudis in the planes used as bombs on 9/11? Could it be because the US protects a repressive regime in return for access to oil and stationing troops in Islam’s holiest land? What would Christians think about a Saudi army in the Vatican? How would Afghans react to five European invasions in 150 years? Like Obama: ‘The US is evil, war is necessary.’ His lecture confirms that way of ‘thinking.’ They have grievances and could have used nonviolence; but the US teaches the opposite by example.

There are two fundamental approaches to conflict, the security approach and the peace approach. The security approach says, “We have a problem, our enemies. If we are militarily superior, we can deter or defeat them, and through this achieve security, and subsequently peace”. The peace approach says, “We have a problem, an unresolved conflict. By solving it we can achieve peace, and through this mutual security”. The security approach is based on dualistic thinking, “We are totally right, they are totally wrong.”

The peace approach admits that all parties may be partially right, and seeks to fulfil the legitimate goals of all.

At one point Obama spoke the truth, when he said that he does not have the final solution to the problem of war. Nobody does, but many of his Nobel colleagues are at least searching, whereas he falls back on the tired old formula of ‘just wars.’ How about just disease? Just slavery? Just colonialism? Fortunately, some of them escaped the thought prison of medieval ideas of inherent evil and possession by Satan and worked for the abolition of social evils.

Obama failed to mention the soon-to-be 250 US military interventions that have occurred around the world. Interventions for freedom? A few maybe, but generally they were conducted to protect exploitative US businesses abroad. In his campaign, Obama promised change we can believe in, but then betrayed his voters by breaking one promise after the other.

Rather than bleeding the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, with more civilian and US losses than ever, a way out could have been a conference on security and cooperation in Central Asia, modelled on the Helsinki Conference 1972-75, which prepared the way for the end of the Cold War.

Obama laid out the old way of thinking, seeking security through war. What the world needs, what people are longing for, is a new approach that solves conflicts and thus eliminates the underlying causes of violence instead of only addressing the symptoms.

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