[THS] !!!!!! Obama Doctrine: Eternal War For Imperfect Mankind
psalience at fastmail.fm
Sat Dec 12 11:01:05 CET 2009
December 10, 2009
Obama Doctrine: Eternal War For Imperfect Mankind
President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States Barack
Obama delivered his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance address in Oslo on December 10,
which has immediately led to media discussion of an Obama Doctrine.
With obligatory references to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi (the
second referred to only by his surname) but to no other American presidents than
Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy - fellow peace prize recipients
Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter weren't mentioned - the U.S.
head of state spoke with the self-assurance of the leader of the world's first
uncontested superpower and at times with the self-righteousness of a would-be
prophet and clairvoyant. And, in the words of German philosopher Friedrich von
Schlegel, a prophet looking backward.
Accompanied by visionary gaze and cadenced, oratorical solemnity, his comments
included the assertion that "War, in one form or another, appeared with the first
man." [see below]
Unless this unsubstantiated claim was an allusion to the account in the Book of
Genesis in the Hebrew Bible of Cain murdering his brother Abel, which would hardly
constitute war in any intelligible meaning of the word (nor was Cain the first man
according to that source), it is unclear where Obama acquired the conviction that war
is coeval with and presumably an integral part of humanity.
Paleontologists generally trace the arrival of modern man, homo sapiens, back
200,000 years, yet the first authenticated written histories are barely 2,400 years old.
How Obama and his speechwriters filled in the 197,600-year gap to prove that the
practice of war is as old as mankind and implicitly inseparable from the human
condition is a question an enterprising reporter might venture to ask at the next
presidential press conference.
Perhaps delusions of omniscience is the answer. The Oslo speech is replete with
references to and appropriations of the attributes of divinity. And to historical and
anthropological fatalism; a deeply pessimistic concept of Providence.
Obama affirmed that "no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe
that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint." Then shortly
afterward stated "Let us reach for the world that ought to be - that spark of the
divine that still stirs within each of our souls." An adversary's invocation of the divine
is false, heretical, sacrilegious; Washington's is true, unerring, sufficient to justify any
action, however violent and deadly. As unadulterated an illustration of secular
Manicheaism as can be found in the modern world.
Toward the beginning of his speech the first standing American president in ninety
years to receive the Peace Prize acknowledged that "perhaps the most profound issue
surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of
the military of a nation in the midst of two wars."
Understandably he exerted no effort to justify one of the two wars in question, that in
Iraq, but endorsed and pledged the continuation of the other, that in Afghanistan
and increasingly Pakistan - while elsewhere speaking disparagingly of the European
Crusades of the later Middle Ages.
Neither the Nobel Committee nor its honoree seemed inordinately if at all concerned
by the unprecedented awarding of the prestigious and generous ($1.4 million) Peace
Prize to a commander-in-chief in charge of two simultaneous wars far from his
nation's shores and in countries whose governments and peoples never threatened it
in any manner.
In language that never before was heard during a peace prize acceptance speech,
Obama added "we are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands
of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed."
With not a scintilla of national self-awareness, balance or irony, he also derided the
fact that "modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder
innocents on a horrific scale," as he orders unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) linked
by space satellites to launch deadly missile attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The central themes of Obama's speech are reiterations of standing U.S. policy going
back over a decade with the waging of war against Yugoslavia in early 1999 without
United Nations authorization or even a nominal attempt to obtain one; that the U.S.
and its Western military allies can decide individually and collectively when, to what
degree, where and for what purpose to use military force anywhere in the world.
And the prerogative to employ military force outside national borders is reserved
exclusively for the United States, its fellow NATO members and select military clients
outside the Euro-Atlantic zone such as Colombia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Israel and Saudi
Arabia of late.
What is arguably unique in Obama's address is the bluntness with which it reaffirmed
this doctrine of international lawlessness. Excerpts along this line, shorn of ingenuous
qualifications and decorative camouflage, include:
"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent
conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in
concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."
He offered a summary of the just war argument that a White House researcher could
have cribbed from Wikipedia.
"[A]s a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by
their [Gandhi's and King's] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand
idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does
exist in the world."
"I - like any head of state - reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend
Evil, as a noun rather than an adjective, is used twice in the speech, emblematic of a
quasi-theological tone alternating with coldly and even callously pragmatic
Indicative of the second category are comments like these:
"[T]he instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace."
"A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot
convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes
be necessary is not a call to cynicism....
"I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep
ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this
is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower."
Comparing a small handful of al-Qaeda personnel to Hitler's Wehrmacht is
unconscionable. Whatever else the former are, they barely have arms to lay down.
But Obama does, the world's largest and most deadly conventional and nuclear
His playing the trump card of Nazi Germany is not only an act of rhetorical
recklessness, it is historically unjustified. There would have been no need to confront
the Third Reich's legions if timely diplomatic actions had been taken when Hitler sent
troops into the Rhineland in 1936; if Britain and France had not collaborated with
Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy to enforce the naval blockade of Republican
Spain while German aircraft devastated Guernica and other towns and German and
Italian troops poured into the country by the tens of thousands in support of
Generalissimo Franco's uprising. If, finally, Britain, France, Germany and Italy had
not met in Munich in 1938 to sacrifice Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland to Hitler to
encourage his murderous drive to the east. The same four nations met 70 years later,
last year, to reprise the Munich betrayal by engineering the secession of Kosovo from
Serbia, to demonstrate how much had been learned in the interim.
As to the accusation that many nations bear an alleged "deep ambivalence about
military action" and even more so "a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole
military superpower," it bespeaks alike arrogance, sanctimony, and an absolute
imperviousness to the reality of American foreign policy now and in the recent and
not so recent past. According to this imperial "sole military superpower" perspective,
the White House and the Pentagon can never be wrong. Not even partially,
unavoidably or unintentionally.
If others find fault with anything the world's only military juggernaut does, it is a
reflection of their own misguided pacifism and ingrained, pathological "anti-
Americanism." Perhaps this constitutes the aforementioned "threats to the American
people," as there aren't any others in Afghanistan or in the world as a whole that
were convincingly identified in the speech.
What may be the most noteworthy - and disturbing - line in the address is what
Obama characterised as the "recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the
limits of reason." Lest this observation be construed as an example of personal or
national humility, other - grandiose Americocentric - comments surrounding it leave
no doubt that the inadequacies in question are only applied to others.
One would search in vain for a comparable utterance by another American head of
state. For a nation that prides itself on being the first one founded on the principles
of the 18th century Enlightenment and the previous century's Age of Reason, that its
leader would lay stress on inherent and ineradicable human frailty and at least by
implication on some truth that is apart from and superior to reason is nothing less
than alarming. The door is left open to irrationalism and its correlates, that the
ultimate right can be might and that there are national imperatives beyond good and
And if people are by nature flawed and their reasoning correspondingly impaired,
then for humanity, "Born but to die and reasoning but to err" (Alexander Pope), war
may indeed be its birthright and violent conflicts will not be eradicated in its lifetime.
War, which came into existence with mankind, will last as long as it does. They may
both end, as Obama believes they originated, simultaneously.
How the leader of the West, both the nation and the individual, has arrived at this
bleak and deterministic impasse was also mentioned in Obama's speech in reference
to pivotal post-Cold War events that have defined this new century.
It is only a single step from:
"I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the
Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our
conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That's why all responsible
nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep
"The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires
responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That's why NATO continues to be
In proclaiming these and similar sentiments, Obama made reference to his host
country in alluding to the war in Afghanistan: "[W]e are joined by 42 other countries
- including Norway - in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further
Again, threats are magnified to inflated and even universal dimensions. All nations on
the planet are threatened and some of them - 43 NATO states and partners - are
fending off the barbarians at the gates. It is difficult to distinguish the new Obama
Doctrine from the preceding Blair and Bush ones except in regard to its intended
It is a mission outside of time, space and constraints. "The United States of America
has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of
our citizens and the strength of our arms....America's commitment to global security
will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more
complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace. This is
true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia....And sadly, it will
continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.
"The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries, and other friends and allies,
demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they've shown in
The U.S. president adduced other nations - by name - that present threats to
America and its values, its allies and the world as a whole in addition to Afghanistan
and Somalia, which are Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe. All five
were either on George W. Bush's post-September 11 list of state sponsors of
terrorism or on Condoleezza Rice's later roster of "outposts of tyranny" or both.
Hopes that the policies of Obama's predecessor were somehow outside of the
historical continuum, solely related to the aftermath of September 11, 2001, have
been dashed. The rapidly escalating war in South Asia is proof enough of that
lamentable fact. War is not a Biblical suspension of ethics but the foundation of
In his novel La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast) Emile Zola interwove images of a
French crowd clamoring for a disastrous war with Prussia ("A Berlin!") and a
locomotive heading at full steam down the track without an engineer. Obama's
speech in Oslo indicates that America remains bent on rushing headlong to war even
after a change of engineers. Veteran warhawks Robert Gates, James Jones, Richard
Holbrooke, David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have stoked the furnace for a long
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From Clayton Eshleman:
A fine and strong piece by David Swanson [below]. Let me make one point that he
does not pick up on.
Obama: "War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man."
There is no way to argue this, and as a blanket statement it is bullshit.
I spent 25 years studying what is left of image-making in the late
European Upper Paleolithic Period--from c. 32,000 to 8,000 B.P.
(i.e., before the present). There is no indication of war. In fact, there is
no sign of what we call war today until the early Neolithic Period, around
7,000 B.P., at the dawn of agriculture, permament settlements, and the
domestication of cattle.
Our immediate ancestors, the Cro-Magnon people--who we think were
in Europe and the Mid-East, possibly as early as 90,000 B.P.--thus appear
to have been warless for some 80,000 years.
From: newsfromunderground at googlegroups.com
[mailto:newsfromunderground at googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Mark Crispin
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 1:59 PM
To: newsfromunderground at googlegroups.com
Subject: [MCM] Obama takes his peace prize, talks up war (David Swanson)
Obama's Rejection Speech
By David Swanson
That was not a peace prize acceptance speech. That was an infomercial for
war. President Obama took the peace prize home with him, but left behind in
Oslo his praise for war, his claims for war, and his view of an alternative
and more peaceful approach to the world consisting of murderous economic
"There are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and
beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian
organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet
acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I
cannot argue with those who find these men and women - some known, some
obscure to all but those they help - to be far more deserving of this honor
Yet, you did argue. You argued by accepting the prize " and then making a
false case for war:
"War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of
history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought
or disease - the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power
and settled their differences."
This is simply not true of all tribes and civilizations, unless we include
war making as a criterion for being considered civilized.
"The concept of a 'just war' emerged, suggesting that war is justified only
when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in
self-defense; if the forced used is proportional; and if, whenever possible,
civilians are spared from violence."
How dare someone responsible for illegal occupations and air strikes and the
use of unmanned drones say these words? (Responsible, that is, given the
failure of Congress and of we the people to stop him.)
"America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a
Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war,
treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide and restrict the most
How dare a president refusing to support a treaty on land mines speak in
these terms? Are we supposed to not see the actions and just hear the words?
"I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same
ceremony years ago: 'Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no
social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones.'"
Very wise. Very true. And completely violated by Barack Obama's actions and
the better part of the words in this speech. Are we supposed to hear these
words in a different part of our brains from the rest of the speech and its
advocacy of war?
"A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations
cannot convince al-Qaidas leaders to lay down their arms."
Now a group of fewer than 100 angry people in Afghanistan, and their allies
elsewhere, are the rough equivalent of "Hitler's armies" and justify the
brutal occupation of a nation by tens and hundreds of thousands of soldiers
and mercenaries, tanks and planes, and unmanned drones? And negotiations,
with the Taliban or anyone else, are not possible because...
because... well, because of that rhetoric about Hitler's armies.
"The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more
than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our
arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted
peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take
hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we
seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest."
A 1993 Congressional Research Service (CRS) study of the U.S. Navy's Naval
Historical Center records identified "234 instances in which the United
States has used its armed forces abroad in situations of conflict or
potential conflict or for other than normal peacetime purposes"
between 1798 and 1993. This list does not include covert actions or
post-World War II occupation forces and base agreements. In a 2006 review of
this study and two others, Gar Smith found that "in our country's 230 years
of existence, there have been only 31 years in which U.S. troops were not
actively engaged in significant armed adventures on foreign shores." In
other words, fewer than 14% of America's days have been at peace. As of
2006, there were 192 member states in the United Nations. Over the past two
centuries, the United State has attacked, invaded, policed, overthrown, or
occupied 62 of them. Read more.
"I believe that all nations - strong and weak alike - must adhere to
standards that govern the use of force. I - like any head of state - reserve
the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation."
The United Nations Charter, to which the United States is party, and which
is therefore the supreme law of the United States under Article VI of the
Constitution is apparently not a standard that governs the use of force,
since President Obama has just thrown it away in a statement of Obama
Doctrine that appears indistinguishable from the so-called Bush doctrine.
Obama then doubles down with a Bush the Elder / Clintonian doctrine of
"I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in
the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction
tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That
is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a
clear mandate can play to keep the peace."
Obama equates non-military action, non-hostile action, with inaction, pure
and simple. Where is aid? Where is diplomacy? Where is cooperation? Why are
all non-hostile approaches to other nations banished from the text of a
Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech a mere 25 years after 1984?
"Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable."
What can be said to render that statement less persuasive than it is on its
own? Maybe this:
"That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at
Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's
commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions."
Torture was illegal internationally and in the US code of law before Obama
became president. He publicly instructed the Attorney General of the United
States not to enforce those laws. He claimed the power to "rendition" people
to other nations where they might be tortured. His CIA Director and a top
presidential advisor have claimed the president has the power to torture if
he chooses to. And President Obama has here claimed the power to prohibit or
un-prohibit torture, spitting in the face of the very idea of the rule of
law. The prison at Guantanamo is not closed, and moving those prisoners to
Illinois or Bagram or any other lawless U.S. prison will not bring the
United States into compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
"I have spoken to the questions that must weigh on our minds and our hearts
as we choose to wage war. But let me turn now to our effort to avoid such
tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting
At last, mid-speech, we are presented with a drop of that toxic trademarked
substance: hope. Only to swallow a mouthful of this:
"First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe
that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to
change behavior - for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the
international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the
rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.
Intransigence must be met with increased pressure - and such pressure exists
only when the world stands together as one."
Set aside the hypocrisy of the globalism and rule-of-law talk from a
commander in chief escalating wars and occupying 177 nations around the
world. The message here is that a decent alternative to war is crippling
sanctions that "exact a real price." The wisdom of a creative nonviolent
outlook has not yet penetrated. And the President does not develop the idea
any further, turning instead to nuclear arms:
"... those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament. I am committed
to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I am
working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear
stockpiles. But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations
like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect
international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted."
The United States is not seriously pursuing disarmament, is developing new
nuclear weapons, is in clear violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty. And Iran is not.
"America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends
are governments that protect the rights of their citizens."
President Obama, in his famous Middle-East speech earlier this year
admirably acknowledged the U.S. overthrow of a democratically elected
president in Iran, and the installation of a dictator -- who, like many
dictators than and now, was one of our closest friends. The greatest success
of international law in recent years has been the precedent set by
prosecutors seeking to hold responsible Augusto Pinochet. Does anyone recall
how he came into power?
"So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different
countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are
"Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about
exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy.
I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity
of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach - and
condemnation without discussion - can carry forward a crippling status quo.
No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an
And there, as this reprehensible speech is dragging to a close, are the
words with which it should have begun, the words denied by the thrust of
everything else here and by the actions of the man delivering the words. And
then there was a bit more:
"[A] just peace includes not only civil and political rights - it must
encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just
freedom from fear, but freedom from want."
A bitter statement for the people of Afghanistan or the United States to
hear from a president who has acted to divert our resources upward to Wall
Street and downwards into bombs and bases. But true and worth repeating
nonetheless. Let's not imagine, however, that George W. Bush would not have
said the same. He would simply have said it with a smaller military budget,
a smaller war budget, fewer troops in the field, fewer mercenaries in the
field, bases in fewer countries, and worse grammar.
David Swanson is the author of the new book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial
Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press. You can
order it and find out when tour will be in your town:
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