Would Orwell have believed it: Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize just two weeks after he fixed the Petreus-McCrystal plan for perpetual war in Afghanistan and for a not very secret war in Pakistan in stone; while the occupation of Iraq continues; and just days after the Obama Justice Department intervened on behalf of torture lawyer John Yu, arguing that he cannot be sued in civil courts? This from the man who was elected to restore the rule of law and who has done nothing but protect Bush-Cheney era war criminals from prosecution.
The Nobel Committee claimed that Obama was chosen for his potential, not his accomplishments, and for his promise to reintegrate the United States into the community of enlightened states. That was a lame contention back when the prize was announced; by now, it is simply preposterous. Just ask the negotiators for developing countries how “multilateral” the United States is being, at this very moment, in Copenhagen. And reflect on the fact, announced while Obama was on his way to Oslo, that Attorney General Eric Holder, who was one of the good ones (compared to the unreconstructed Wall Streeters and Clintonites), has authorized death sentence prosecutions at about the rate Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey, Bush’s last two Attorney Generals, did. [Bush’s first AG, John Ashcroft, maintained a slightly higher pace, but then he was an in-your-face Christian.]
One can only avert one’s gaze. But how can anyone whose head is still screwed on right not be revolted by the praise liberal commentators have been heaping on Obama’s speech? Yes, in a low-grade way and compared to what George Bush’s speech writers used to concoct, it was eloquent, thoughtful, and nuanced. But, for anyone with eyes to see -- for anyone who lacks Obama’s confidence that his, Obama’s, saying it makes it coherent and true -- the speech was intellectually shallow and morally depraved.
Notwithstanding the praise it has drawn, the part of what he said that actually made sense was hardly news. Obama declared that war (or, more generally, violence) may sometimes be necessary to advance peace (or non-violence). Thus he referenced the timeworn case for the permissibility of non-pacifist means for pacifist ends. Need I point out that this is what almost all non-pacifists already believe or that the case for it is or rather ought to be familiar to all educated people? Obama’s point is the theme, for example, of Max Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation”; an essay he could hardly have failed to read back at Columbia along with a host of other classics that argue for a similar point. Still, the nuance Obama added was troubling. He introduced an explicitly religious motif – about the inexorability of Evil. As commentators on the Right, including Karl Rove, were quick to point out, this was vintage Bush boy. So too was his embrace of the Commander-in-Chief title and his insistence on his prerogatives as “head of state.”
Obama declared Al Qaeda evil. In passing, he maintained that America’s “enemies” in the Balkans and in other “humanitarian interventions” fall in the same category. It should be almost as unnecessary to correct these errors as it is to dwell on the Orwellian aspect of the whole event. But I can’t resist pointing out, yet again, that, by being in the thrall of warmed over Petreus-McCrystal “counter-insurgency” nonsense, Obama is inciting Islamicist resistance, not suppressing it. And neither can I fail to restate the obvious: that 9/11 was not an other-worldly eruption of Evil, but an understandable consequence of decades of American policy in the Middle East – that it was blowback for what the U.S. has done in Israel/Palestine, in Kashmir, in Afghanistan itself and, especially, for its support for corrupt but subservient Arab regimes. What is the Nobel laureate doing about these and other root causes? The short answer is Nothing. The slightly more eloquent, thoughtful and nuanced answer is not much different: from time to time, he talks a good earful, raising expectations he then betrays.
Whatever Obama may think, his saying “X” does not make it the case that X. And, despite what liberal pundits may think, his saying “X and not-X” simultaneously -- as in “escalate” and “wind down” -- is hardly a sign of greatness of mind. It only shows that his thinking is incoherent. Now that Obama has embraced the role of Commander-in-Chief, not just of our bloated armed forces but of American capitalism and its empire, this incoherence threatens to give rise to outcomes that are infinitely more worrisome than anything several hundred “evil” Al Qaeda operatives can contrive.