As I viewed the star-spackled audience listening to the words of President Obama, who serenely, yet confidently projected the power that the United States of America wishes it could continue to wield for the next few hundred years, I felt like I was watching the Academy Awards, writ large and with a global-military focus. Obama countenanced the military swagger that necessitates action and gave a speech that can justify such action, in the "world as it is."
But what is this "world as it is" of which Obama speaks? This world of "forty three other countries" that support the US involvement in Afghanistan because ten years ago, some Yemenis and Saudis planning attacks on the US from Europe and within the United States visited Afghanistan. This world of forty three nations, or is it 22 nations, or 7 nations. I forget the number of nations that matter, since it varies from official meeting to official meeting.
This "world as it is", in which we preempt attacks by subjugating the wisdom of King and Gandhi to the unitary power of the President of the United States, is no different from the world as it was. Certainly, "at the dawn of human history," men could only dream of possessing the power the Obama holds. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon never questioned the sanctity of war as means of spreading the genius of their permutation of western civilization. I wonder if Obama sat teary-eyed at the age of twenty, like Julius Caesar, angry at the fact that he had not yet attained similar power to that of Alexander the Great, who had already conquered most of the known world by that age. That war or violence were "not questioned", even by humans existing at the dawn of civilization, remains unproven, but since President Obama uttered the words, they must remained unquestioned and unanswered.
The "world as it is" – where the tactic of terrorism is employed at will by those who refuse to see their own actions as terrorism or the innocents killed by their actions as innocent. While "modern technology" and linguistic sophistry permit the murder of innocent truth on a "horrific scale." Wouldn’t this technology also allow, by power of arithmetic growth, a few very powerful countries controlled by some tall and small men to do the very same things, but worse? Obviously, the number of innocent people killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan does not count as horrific enough to find a way other than war, which President Obama has proven with the surety of a Geometric proof. We, of course, know that President Obama "face[s] the world as it is."
This "world as it is" where one cannot cynically "stand idle in the face of threats to the American people." Even if those threats come more from within than without? Is there not cynicism woven into the straw man argument that a non-violent movement could not have "halted Hitler’s armies" or to the idea that negotiations will not influence Al Qaeda’s leaders to "lay down their arms." And while it might be true that "force is sometimes necessary", it is not true that people never change their minds through open and honest discussion with those that treat them as political equals. I believe that a non-violent movement could have thwarted Hitler, but since I am not President, I guess my creative historical hypothesis will not be considered truth. I also believe, and more importantly, so do many other experts, that Al Qaeda and the Taliban might be open to negotiations. But negotiations mean that the US might compromise in some fashion – that is not our style. If we allow any quarter to the enemy, then we lose. We must achieve a total victory – an idea which does not exist anywhere near the "limits of reason."
And what about the "mistakes" that occur near the "limits of reason", which mingle the blood of our citizens with the blood of the guilty and the innocent? Are these "mistakes" enough collateral to "underwrite global security"? I suppose at a ratio of lost American lives to lost lives of foreign citizens in the 100:1 or 1000:1 range remains consistent with the capital necessary to underwrite a corrupt, yet profitable, banking and financial system. It’s no surprise that the history of our underwriting of global security (a euphemism for the cold war) is largely unknown as are the dark derivative markets that drive the profits of the super rich and the depress the destitution of those who earn less than $50000 and have a family. Thank god for "the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms", no matter how far the blood is spattered or how mangled the arms have become.
As we have "enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans", it’s ironic that many in the former Yugoslavia look back to the good old days of socialism after having tasted the juice of a new political-economic order. Thankfully in Serbia, NATO destroyed almost every government owned factory in clear display of democracy enablement. It is quite fortunate for us, the US, that our "will" and our "enlightened self-interest" are not the same things. It is certain that the lives of our children WILL be better if others begin to see their own "self interest" as the United States. That’s what freedom and prosperity are now. They don’t need to be translated at all anymore. NO need to understand that other people may have their own equivalent concept to freedom or prosperity, concepts based on their own notions of what is proper, fair, and just. Freedom and prosperity have been trademarked and are the intellectual property of the United States to be marketed through proper propagation of property rights. It’s true, "we believe their lives will be better (meaning more profitable) if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in (United State’s style) freedom and democracy."
That war does more than "promise human tragedy" was not overstated by Obama. This truth was not lost on the poet W.H. Auden who chose to "love and die" rather than to "love or die" following WWI. That two truths can exist at once is fortunate for this President. The conundrum is necessary to a President who must attract and indoctrinate young men into a culture of military sacrifice (to be distinguished of course from religiously inspired military sacrifice, which of course must be distinguished from Islamically inspired jihadism) and who must appear to respect the idea of peace while accepting a Peace Prize offered by the Nobel family, a family with no stake at all of the global corporate energy racket. Of course, we should not trumpet that war is glorious, for trumpets are used to play "TAPS" as actuarially required.
The sharp double standard of power softens with the skill of rhetorical craft. Therefore Obama’s sentiment that, "While I should follow the rules, I can, of course, choose not to follow the rules when I can justify it to myself," sounds like candy coated hypocrisy. That this notion "strengthens those who do [follow the rules], and isolates -and weakens – those who don’t [follow the rules]" is not proven. The rules themselves seem to be isolated and weakened by the strength of those who write the rules without the agreement of others and then impose them through force.
"The recognized principle of self-defense" is valid. In a court of law, one may bring forth such a defense when one is reasonably fearful of imminent attack. However, after the ‘heat of the moment’, the argument of self-defense fades quickly. Generally, the court will only justify a retaliatory attack on the initial perpetrators of the violence. Usually, self defense does not entail attacking the children or cousins of the initial criminal living in a different house, town or state and would not be justified. Fortunately, the conflation of Saddam Husseins’ bloody inanity with the attacks on the US in 2001 planned and executed by the Saudi/Yemenis who coordinated the plan while living in the US/Europe allows President Obama to use the principle of self defense to be an offensive message that is "clear to all."
And it should be "clear to all" that "self defense" now equates with the problem of how "to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region." That’s the reason the Pakistani’s supported the Taliban, right? So much chaos over there in the badlands of Afghanistan that the Taliban is justified in using force to generate stability – until the Taliban decides against the UNOCAL pipeline, of course. In this world, where the wealthy nations, controlled by wealthy families, corporate entities, and their armies use force "justified on humanitarian grounds" in places "scarred by war", it is no surprise that the scars in the Palestinian territories or in various Latin American countries or on various tribal reservations are not severe enough to justify the sort of intervention now that might prevent the inaction that "tears at our conscience."
So, I am glad that Obama believes that "peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely." Peace is even more unstable when citizens who speak freely are punished. So when the conflict between the Arabs and Jews "seems to harden", the seeming is actual and the hardening is by choice. When the Palestinians spoke freely in free elections and chose Hamas – the US and Israel stripped funding for Hamas then attacked it based on arguments of retaliation for mortar attacks. I’m sure the Palestinians felt that "hope and history are on their side."
Finally, President Obama ends extolling the notion that adherence to the "law of love has always been the core struggle of humanity." A noble sentiment which Obama connects to the tragic concept of hubris, recognizing, ironically, his own attempts to justify war in a speech accepting a peace prize might be one of those moments when we "fall victim to the temptation of pride, and power." Obama, seeing himself as a tragic hero, has figured out that he, like Oedipus at Colonus, can absolve himself of his own guilt. That he can kill his father, sleep with his mother, and still accept that his actions were both required by fate and decided by free choice.
By creating the statement that non-violence may not "have been practical or possible in every circumstance," President Obama creates enough rhetorical wiggle room to co-opt Gandhi and King, while subverting the heart of their message. That love should be the "North Star guides us on our journey" takes little risk to say, but to actually allow love to guide our actions apparently requires more moral strength than President Obama can muster. I fear for the future of my nation.