When I first saw the headline, in Rob Kall’s OpEd News, I thought “This is a joke.” However on further checking the joke on the web – through sites as diverse as al-Jazeera, the Globe and Mail, the Christian Science Monitor, Reuters and others – it became obvious that this was not a joke, but a farce. I do not think there is much I can really add to what has already been said about the prize going to Obama as many commentators have reflected my sentiments quite accurately, but I could not resist doing something to get my personal bewilderment about this farce out of my system by writing about it.
According to the Norway Post:
…Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.
The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened, the Committee says.
The comments are mostly about talk: “a new climate…diplomacy…dialogue and negotiations…vision…negotiations….” all about ideas that have not happened on Obama’s watch.
What you do speaks so loud, I can’t hear what you say….
Those who have read my work know that I refer to this phrase somewhat frequently, when the rhetoric, apologetics, excuses, visions, and hopes in no way match the reality of what occurs in the real world.
While Obama is a wonderful orator and speaks marvellous words of people talking and negotiating and dialoguing, about a world the majority of us desire, he has accomplished nothing, nor do I believe he has laid the groundwork for future success as his actions are often compared to his words.
Domestically he has failed – or is in the process of failing – with healthcare, the environment, and the economy, three of the biggest concerns of average citizens today. Healthcare has been strangled by a Congress that is falling in line with the large pharmaceutical companies. The people he put in place for the environmental agencies are old Clinton cronies who are linked to serve the very industries that are damaging the environment. The economy has been assisted by government largesse to the large corporations who helped create the economic problems in the first place (although it really was a group effort between government, the corporations, and the military) while the people who followed the mantra/propaganda of consumer debt pay the final price.
In foreign affairs nothing has been accomplished except more talk, with the western media in particular creating wonderful scenarios about a changing world, while strong doubts already have risen after his fine rhetorical speeches in Cairo, the UN, and elsewhere. Against international law, he has unilaterally extended the “War on Terror” into Pakistan. He has pretended to do away with illegal confinement and tortures, but is careful to make sure that occurs only on U.S. territory, while it continues, against international law, in other ‘alien’ lands.
Nothing has been accomplished with nuclear disarmament but a lot of talk, and while a lot of talk might be necessary in order to achieve a full and equitable nuclear drawdown, the best action that would speak louder than any of his rhetoric would be a unilateral decrease in nuclear armaments without asking others to do the same (after all, why quibble, overkill is overkill and there is still enough of that to go around several times). Threatening another country with military action, or possible military action also goes against international law, while the threatened country by most accurate accounts is well within international law with their actions.
Other nuclear countries receive the double standard…. Pakistan developed nuclear weapons, outside the NPT, with a wink and a nudge from the U.S., and now is suffering under increasing covert action, increasing direct action, and increasing political manipulation within the broader scope of the new AfPak war. All these actions – essentially the subversion of another county’s sovereignty – could be deemed illegal under international law.
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
Covering the smallest land area, but being at the centre of the emotional and geostrategic turmoil of the Middle East and Arab states lies Israel. It has been understood for decades that Israel has a nuclear arsenal of an estimated couple hundred nuclear weapons, deliverable by plane, missile, and sub (and who knows what other delivery units have been devised). Operating completely outside the NPT, fully avoiding the question whenever it might occur, Israel pretends that they do not exist, and the U.S. pretends that they do not know they exist. Obama is the perfect foil for continued Israeli transgressions against the Palestinian people.
Obama has done nothing about the Israeli/Palestine situation other than a lot of talk, and a considerable amount of that talk has been decidedly one-sided. His advisors are all decidedly pro-Israeli in the context of the land question and settlements. He has given in to the continuation of the settlements, deemed illegal under international law, has said nothing about the separation wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice, and has said nothing about Israel’s nuclear arsenal nor Israel’s threats against Iran. While Obama talks, the Israelis continue to do what they have always done through negotiations and talking: talking about peace, while continuing to occupy Palestine, while continuing to build settlements, while continuing to suppress the civil society of Palestine, all actions against international law.
A greater purpose, or smoke and mirrors?
There are a number of comments about the prize being an incentive for Obama to live up to his rhetoric, to create an equitable peaceful world (although fewer than those that I could find wondering why he received it at all). That may well be true, and Obama may well believe it, but for me, it all comes back to the difference between the spoken word and the actions on the ground. Obama’s rhetoric about the Middle East, about world peace and cooperation all sound mighty fine. The tools that he has used so far to try and accomplish this are the same old militaristic tools that have always been part and parcel of U.S. foreign policy. Unilateral invasions, occupations, threats of invasion, covert actions against governments, hostile actions against civilians all go against international law – more decidedly they go against common sense that violent military actions will somehow create a peaceful world.
I would be happy to have Obama live up to the expectations (hmm, but what really are the expectations of the Nobel Prize Committee?) of the prize, to realise his rhetorical grand visions of world peace and harmony. However, unless he can stand up against his own advisors, unless he can go against the grain of the established Washington perspective of the world, unless he can face down the Israeli political machine, not much will change.
A farce is a pretence or mockery. It is the dismal humour of human tragedy. The human tragedy here is Obama’s sparkling rhetoric allowing him to receive a peace prize, while providing a thin veneer over the illegal and hostile actions the U.S. promotes for its own geo-strategic purposes around the world.
[JIM MILES is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.]