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After a somewhat fawning introduction by the committee chairman, and a Chopin piano etude played with somewhat melodramatic theatrics by Lang Lang (for which evidently he’s famous), and then a jazzy work by Esperanza Spalding, whose name alone seems like a clever fix for the man with the audacity of hope, President Barack Obama went to the podium to deliver his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture.  Commencing with the requisite disclaimers, under the circumstances, of worthiness, citing Gandhi and Martin Luther King as the models, though also saying there were millions of unsung others more worthy than himself, Obama did accept the award, and began the substance of his talk.  As he began I worried that the two microphones intruding from left and right would interfere with his orator’s gesticulations, and indeed he did bang into them a few times.  Likewise at some points he fumbled his teleprompter reading, stalling once long enough to have me thinking the system had gone down.  Minor technical matters these.

The substantive matters were another story, and nothing minor about them at all.  While bathed in Obama’s eloquence, the content was pretty much business as usual for the American foreign policy clique.  The positive response of America’s bobble-head pontificators, left and right (though American “left” is not Left at all), underlined the point.  While the audience yearned to hear words of some change in America’s direction, what Obama gave was a hard-nosed reassertion of American exceptionalism dressed up in loquacious words and quotes from prior Nobel prize winners.  While making very veiled reference to America’s wayward behaviors of the last 8 years, by saying he had ordered Guantanamo closed, and torture stopped, he built for himself a rickety platform on which to stand the rest of his argument.  Looking into deep history, verily from the first Man, he asserted warring had always been in us, and by implication, always would be.  But, so he said, steadily we’d built institutions – religions, governments, States, and then international organizations and agreements – and had constructed rules to constrain our warring natures.  The rules he cited were ones which America openly and brazenly violated most recently in the past decade, and which we’d quietly broken (though no one in the world was unaware of this) for many decades, or, hell, since we grabbed a continent from from its original inhabitants, more or less rendered them extinct, and rampaged in the name of “civilization” where ever our “national interests” lay.   And Mr Obama repeated that America would retain its unilateral “right” to intervene in places where its “national interests” lay, including in places where our bleeding humanitarian heart needed to reach out and correct the abuses of genocide, failures in human rights, etc., if need be with arms.  Like depleted uranium, phosphorus bombs, and the rest of our lethal stash of scientific killing machinery.  Of course, we’d do this in the name of “democracy, freedom, human rights” etc.   After all, we’re Americans, and as the whole world recognizes, we do good.

Last week, American-imposed “democracy” in Baghdad

So while the President waxed eloquent, as expected, what he said was boiler-plate America first-ism, hence the quick applause of our Right-wing talkeratie.   I suspect on the other side, across the world, Obama did a good job of deflating any fanciful expectations of “change you can believe in” with regard to America’s bottom-line intentions in the world.  If, on skipping on to Copenhagen, Mr Obama announces America’s post-Bush embrace of serious environmental action to forestall global warming and other depredations, it won’t really be because of a turn of heart, but rather of a hard-nosed estimation that not doing anything will be far more costly in business terms:  a lot of America (say Florida) sits at just above sea level and we’d lose a lot of square miles if the ocean rises 3 meters, never mind 30.  Not to mention the other predictable mayhem that global warming promises.

US troops in Iraq

So what are we to make of this, our silver-tongued rhetorician, lacing his toxic talk with gracious words and kindly sentiments while insisting inside the velvet glove is an iron fist?   Which Barack Obama is it, Mr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?  From his recent actions, whether in domestic American affairs of bailing out the banks and investment community (beyond that which Bush’s flush of post-election trillions in cash provided), or in allowing the “health care” reform to be watered down and twisted into another massive bonanza for the insurance and drug companies, or in foreign matters, the initial dispatching of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, now followed in the past weeks with 30K more, it would appear the Hyde side is winning by a long shot.  Jeykll seems confined to spinning nice words and appearing to support them, while on the pragmatic side all the actions seem to support that old military-industrial-media complex which seems to determine the real fate of America.

“Barack Obama’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize was a carefully reasoned defense of a foreign policy that differs very little from George Bush’s,” says Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writing at

“He is winding down one war, escalating a second, and stepping up the pressure on Iran. He is asserting America’s sovereign right to unilateral action in self defense while expressing the hope that this right will not need to be exercised,” Mr. Mead wrote. “If Bush had said these things the world would be filled with violent denunciations. When Obama says them, people purr. That is fine by me.”

US soldiers in Afghanistan

Here is what I sent, and was published in the New York Times in their “comments” sections:

President Obama’s failure to acknowledge that it is the United States of America, under George Bush, which violated the “rules” which he cited – engaging in an illegal war of choice under spurious grounds, using outlawed weapons (phosphorous), using torture, engaging in international kidnapping (extreme rendition) – cast a pall of dishonesty over his talk of “realistic idealism”.  The balance of his talk was essentially the same old story of American exceptionalism, our “national interests” littered around the globe where ever oil or other valuable resources reside, but given in intelligent and elegant language, with an aura of humbleness.  Nevertheless it was George Bush’s white-hat cowboy in content, asserting America was the good guy, and we’d barge in when necessary.  By our terms of “necessary.”

It must have been odd for those assembled to hear from a half-black man America’s usual patter about the old European “white man’s burden.”

And here is something from Tom Hayden, old activist of the 60’s, still at it:

The Nobel museum sits on Oslo’s beautiful waterfront, with banners blazoned with the slogan, “From King to Obama”, referring to an months-long exhibition about the early US civil rights movement. I toured the museum a few weeks ago, during anti-war meetings in Scandanavia.

The “From King to Obama” summarizes the evolution of the American civil rights movement into the successful presidential campaign of its heir, Barack Obama. Their the comparison ends, the linkage jarring. Perhaps it has been taken down.

Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964 after being stabbed, beaten, and jailed across the American South. President Obama becomes the Nobel recipient only ten days after he began rushing 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan and signing an order approving secret CIA operations in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The difference could not be more complete.

This is not only about Obama, but Norway as well. The Oslo government represents the core leadership of NATO [Gen. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general] and the United Nations [Kai Eide, UN special representative to Afghanistan]. Rather that questioning the contradiction of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invading South Central Asia, Oslo has sent 600 troops and $350 million [US] to the Afghan occupation. Obama now is lobbying NATO for 7,000 more troops, despite strong public opposition in Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Somehow NATO leaders believe that Europe’s Muslim communities – an underclass composing six percent of Europe’s population while completely under-represented in Europe’s parliaments – can be held in check by bombing their homelands in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The real reason NATO is in Afghanistan was once expressed by Gen. James Jones, now Obama’s national security adviser, when he was NATO’s chief: “In commiting the alliance to sustained ground combat operations in Afghanistan, NATO has bet its future. If NATO were to fail, alliance cohesion will be at grave risk. A moribund or unraveled NATO would have a profoundly negative geo-strategic impact.” (See Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos, Viking, 2008, p. 373)

Does it occur to Obama, as he flies overnight to receive this sacred prize, that it is morally unjustified to patch together Western unity by leading a military occupation of impoverished Muslim countries which will only result in blowback? Does he feel any irony in Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden being carried by the first African-American president?

It is reported that the president is “intrigued” by studying the lectures of two previous honorees, Nelson Mandela and Dr. King. One hopes the lesson will be profound, for the similarity ends only with style. Mandela survived 27 years in the cold cells of racism before becoming his nation’s president. King was rebuked, terrorized, and later stood up against the Vietnam War despite establishment displeasure.

Instead of further compounding the hypocrisy all around, Obama could refuse the Nobel prize until he deserves it. Then he could express a painful regret at sending additional troops, and pledge absolutely to end these long American wars and lead a global effort against global warming even if it costs him the presidency. He then might return to Copenhagen next week to take the rightful mantle of being an environmental president.

Instead, majorities of people in America, Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will have to continue the search for a leadership that reflects their will and acts on their aspirations.

For the Nobel committee it is an ignoble time, and for Obama a moment of hypocrisy that will haunt him.

Tom Hayden
The Peace and Justice Resource Center

If the increasingly strident murmuring of the American liberal-left regarding Obama are indicative at all, it would seem Mr Obama is peeling off his fundamental support, and might well be re-elected by conservatives (minus the bottom-line racist 15-30% of Limbaugh/Beck-heads) come 2012.  While some may admire his Kissingeresque real-politick enunciated in elegant argument and history-acknowledging quotations, others might, as I increasingly do, find it lipstick on a pig.

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