Thursday, December 10, 2009

President Obama accepting the Nobel Peace Prize today: golden opportunity to advance Pax Americana

Today, President Obama will accept his Nobel Peace Prize. When the award was announced, I was suspicious of the Nobel committee's intentions for awarding President Obama the prize over several liberal reformers, similar to 2003 Iranian recipient Shirin Ebadi, from illiberal parts of the world.

The timing, however, has turned out to be fortuitous. Coming so soon after his West Point speech, President Obama has a golden opportunity today in Oslo to uphold our definitively progressive liberal strategy in the War on Terror, define the enemy, and explain why and how we are building peace through war, such as the spectrum of peace operations of COIN. He should give credit to American and allied soldiers as champions in the cause of peace who are confronting intolerable brutal forces. My Feb 2007 Spec article When Anti-War is Anti-Peace is dated, but it's roughly the direction I'd like the president to take. He should also stand up for the liberal reformers from illiberal places who were passed over in order to give him the prize and speak out specifically on Shirin Ebadi and the state of Iran.

Given that President Obama has embraced President Bush's liberal foreign policy, it would be decent of him to share credit with President Bush today, but I doubt that will happen. Nonetheless, I hope President Obama rises to the opportunity on a unique world stage to advance the War on Terror and reinvigorate the global liberalizing influence of Pax Americana.

Update: Speech transcript here.

Grade: B-, or President Obama addressed most of the above key points with his typical rhetorical aplomb, but he spoke broadly about Pax Americana and other liberal ideas in lieu of specifics. For the speech, the president used a pedantic political science tact to lecture about progressive liberalism and Pax Americana as the contextual basis of our foreign policy. He made the point that the conception of war as furthering violence and pacifism as furthering peace is practically unrealistic, although I think he could have made the point more clear. My main disappointment is the speech did not forcefully uphold our liberal strategy in the War on Terror, nor explain COIN and the peace-building role of American and allied militaries in depth. Instead, Obama only generally touched on the peace-keeping role of our soldiers, the need to effectively confront rogue nations and "evil" actors, and the requirement of security for peace.

The speech took many directions and the latter half of the speech especially seemed to lose focus in places. I mean, "law of love"? Maybe political science classes were different when Obama attended Columbia, but I don't recall learning that particular concept as a Columbia poli sci major. By including so many subjects in his speech with so few specifics, I'm not confident he made a lasting impression with the global audience.

President Obama showed again how much he and President Bush are like-minded liberals, although he won't admit it and maybe that's for the best. If liberals around the world are incapable of taking responsibility for their betrayal of liberalism during the Bush administration, then perhaps they can at least rationalize supporting the same liberal policies by attributing them to Obama. Interestingly, President Obama raised every justification for our Iraq intervention without defending Operation Iraqi Freedom by name, perhaps a calculation meant to protect the bases of OIF for his own use while still preserving the global good will for him that's defined by the vilification of Bush.

As a campaigner, Obama was mindful of speaking to different audiences and he's continued that trait into his presidency. That was effective when Candidate Obama wanted members of diverse audiences to believe he said what they preferred to hear, which worked very well for him in winning the presidency. At his speech-making best as president, however, he shows thoughtfulness and an understanding of different, even contradictory, sides of an issue from which he forms a rational conclusion. I fear his Nobel Peace Prize speech was delivered more like a campaign speech than a presidential speech and the mash of ideas will fail to convey the clear impressions or take-away points needed to effectively advance American foreign policies with the global audience.

My highest hope for President Obama is as a superior spokesman than uncharismatic President Bush for our nation and the War on Terror, so I hope our president got his point across. But whether he did or not, the president lost a golden opportunity to explain COIN and our progressive liberal strategy in the War on Terror to the world.

Add: Political scientist Walter Russell Meade's reaction. The magazine he refers to, American Interest, may also be worth checking out. I'm not the only person to notice Obama's speech was pedantic - Daniel Drezner points out the IR theories in Obama's speech.

Eric

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