From Oslo, Barack Obama Wasn't Talking to You:
Let's put aside for a moment whatever misgivings we may have about the bullshit war we're fighting in Afghanistan and its nonsensical escalation (oops - tipped the hand there). In fact, put aside whatever personal animosity or disappointment you may or may not be feeling as health care reform gets watered down, gay rights gets thrown under the bus, and real banking regulation seems like a distant dream. Put aside, especially you, dear, sweet conservatives, any anger you may have about why President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; he had nothing to do with it, and he was about as confused as anyone. Let us all just take a breath and for a moment, outside of the blinding contexts in which we all exist, take a look at the speech Obama just delivered in Norway.
To put it simply, Barack Obama wasn't talking to you. He wasn't even talking to Europe, really. No, he was speaking to history, offering a philosophical and not dispassionate assertion of American leadership in the world, a reasoning behind his war policies, a defense of the "just war" doctrine, and a plan for future peace. It wasn't a stemwinder, a breathtaking oratory cum sermon. It was a speech, from an intellectual president to intellectuals, and it was so fucking smart. Have we gone so far down the dumbing-down highway that we can no longer see the importance of hearing a rational man grapple with the conflict between realism and idealism? Have we been so numbed by the cowboy presidency of George W. Bush, along with a steady diet of reality-TV hysterics and high-fructose corn syrup-infused food products, that we're no longer capable of understanding anything except in relation to how it makes us feel? Of course, that doesn't mean we have to blankly agree, but there's meat to chew on, not just the gristle of catchphrases and threats.
Check out a few lines: "Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: 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 – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity."
That is arrogant shit, right there, similar to what he said in his Afghanistan speech. But it is honestly arrogant. There's so much you can argue with - that every nation that gets into a war claims it is "just," the fact that the United States was reluctant to get into World War II in Europe, the necessity of U.S. involvement in Korea, the foot-dragging on doing anything in the Balkans (which didn't meet the criteria of Colin Powell's doctrine), and whether or not we're "imposing our will" on Iraq and Afghanistan. But is the underlying premise false? (And, frankly, conservatives ought to latch onto this entire speech; Obama does more to reform the image of Republicans than a thousand Sarah Palins.)
Here's how you know the way things have changed. In his September 14, 2001 speech at a prayer service for 9/11 victims, George W. Bush said that America's "responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." And today, Barack Obama, in contrast, offered a less utopian view of the future: "We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes."
In the second half of the speech, Obama laid out his ideas for he called "a just peace." Elimination of nuclear weapons, support of human rights, and social development, good, clear liberal goals all, are the basis of this peace. And what he did in this section was to subtly curve the speech towards America as equal partner with other nations, not as arrogant spreader of wealth and democracy. Indeed, the sense of this part was that America ain't what it once was, and it needs to work with the rest of the world: "[I]n a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come." For most of the rest of the speech, America is barely mentioned at all, and, after exhortations of the need for the simplicity of love in the world, inspired by Martin Luther King, among others, Obama ended with the word "Earth."
One of the attacks on liberalism is that it's too eggheaded, too concerned with seeing all sides of an issue, with all that fucking nuance. And no doubt, even as the Rude Pundit types this, others are leaping at the speech as "dull" or lacking emotion. They're missing the point. The President articulated a vision of the future, tempered by acknowledgment of our reality. Essentially, Obama went to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony to accept the accolade, and, instead, he asked the world to help him earn it.