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Obama’s Peace: A Now But Not Yet Kind of Thing

December 10, 2009

President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize lecture stated clearly what will become known as “The Obama Doctrine.”  Perhaps the most important thing about The Obama Doctrine is that it is the antithesis of “The Bush 43 Doctrine.”

Obama made clear that he does not mean that he won’t continue to operate as Commander in Chief following Bush’s lead in Afghanistan, though.  Obama has one foot in the world of “just war” and one foot in the new world of just peace, and he seems unable to decide on which foot to put the weight of his office.

Obama might do well to meditate on A.J. Muste’s remark that, “There is no way to peace.  Peace is the Way.”

This morning, I got up at 6:30 to get ready to watch the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo.  Already it was a bright sunny day in Washington, as I looked out our apartment window across the soccer fields and to the Pentagon.  CSPAN coverage included the beautiful music, and I settled in to hear first the Nobel Committee chairman, Thorbjorn Hagland, and then President Obama.

Thorbjorn Hagland’s speech is worth reading.  He presented a well reasoned apology for the committee’s choice of Barack Obama this year.  American audiences should pay attention to this middle power point of view.   That’s not what I want to talk about now.

Before my friends and colleagues shower me with their exercised comments about the pros and cons of Obama’s speech, I want to put my first impressions on paper.

My first impression is that Obama may be a historic figure because he may be the transitional leader from a world organized for war to a world organized for peace.  He may be the next Gorbachev – in a powerful sense – who frees the world of its bondage to military order and to military industry.  I say “may be,” because his Nobel Peace Prize lecture makes clear that he would dare to make that break with the past.

Obama went through the classroom litany of all the old tired and failed arguments for just war.  He woodenly recited the principles; principles that have been used a myriad of times in human history to justify wars and then broken a myriad of times to fight those same wars.  He invited the world to share with the U.S. its burden of war fighting for just causes.  Let’s face it, no nation says to itself, “Hey, let’s go fight an unjust illegal war and the hell with the civilians.”  No, nations always have a moral reason to fight and always vow to fight fair.  Yet, when the wars are over, history tells us again and again that it was not so.

Obama had more passion and energy—I thought—when he spoke of the power and role of nonviolence and when he invoked the names of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and when he acknowledged the nameless protesters and advocates for just and sustainable peace in regions of repression.  He asserted that those who create human misery by violating international law and standards must not have impunity, but he said that in a way that everyone understood that American presidents have, and always will have, impunity.  Nevertheless, he acknowledged the problem that more civilians than soldiers die in wars, he said no to torture, and he called on engagement by nations to settle their differences by diplomacy.

He missed a remarkable opportunity to “pick the low hanging fruit” for the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict.  He could have given civilian survivors of war solace by announcing that the United States would sign the global treaty to ban cluster bombs, and he could have made an appeal to the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to make good on his promise of world without nuclear weapons.  His lack of action disappoints.

What does not disappoint and what we all should rally for is Obama’s inclination to put the weight of his office on the foot that is already in the world of a just and sustainable peace.  We need to create a big strong movement of ordinary people who will convince Obama that he put his right foot in and now he should put his left foot into that new world.  Historically, we’re in that New Testament state of living in a world that is Now-But-Not-Yet.  The more we move Obama into that Now-But-Not-Yet world, the closer the U.S. and the world will come to justice, peace, and a sustainable planet.

  1. Mike Monahan permalink
    December 11, 2009 5:12 pm

    Professor Obama’s lecture on War and Peace did me proud. I thought it was a serious, thoughtful and responsible discussion of the search for Peace in a world that knows war only all too well. I agree he could have made some more pointed concrete proposals and called for some specific actions, banning cluster bombs for example. But what he did say was more than I have heard from any other administration. Now, let him and his administration practice what he preaches. [I actually think that he is trying to…not without considerable opposition from vested interests.]

  2. David Connor Jones permalink
    December 11, 2009 6:22 pm

    I agree with Joe Volk’s run down of Obama’s hackneyed use of the “just war” theory that politicians evoke time and time again to rhetorically support invasions and escalations in the public eye. I found Obama’s lipservice invocation of Gandhi and MLK typical of his glib oratory since his massive convention rally in Denver in 2008. It seems as hollow now as it seemed then. I seriously doubt MLK or Gandhi would find Obama’s immediate post-inauguration authorization of increased drone missile attacks in the Af-Pak border region justifiable, just as I believe neither leader would support his escalation of the ground conflict in the same region that he announced two weeks ago at West Point. I disagree with Joe Volk’s “Now-But-Not -Yet” strategy of getting behind Obama in hopes of moving his left foot away from the war effort in Afghanistan. I find this an absurd strategy for peacemaking, as if a mass surge of “War is not the answer” signs on the white house lawn could affect this president and his agenda. Clearly for a great many people in this administration and in the democratic party at large, WAR IS THE ANSWER. I, as well as many a Quaker friend down south, have been increasingly disappointed with FCNL’s handling of Obama & his team with kid gloves. I doubt George Fox would have kid gloves on at this point. I swear, when speaking truth to power, Let your yeah be yeah and your nay be nay. Let’s see FCNL quit straddling the two worlds of war and peace by apologizing for a lame president’s continuing hypocrisy and doublespeak. You only make FCNL look like a naive, duped organization. I see no indication from Obama’s Nobel Lecture that he intends to leave the world of war behind him. I find it incredible that Joe Volk actually believes that to be a possibility, based on the man’s speech and his subsequent sidestep of every opportunity for the folks across the Atlantic to question his commitment to escalating the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan.

  3. richard andrews permalink
    December 12, 2009 12:59 am

    I say yea to the comments of David Connor Jones. I say nay to Mike Monahan cheers and proudness…..I instead felt ashamed once again of another U.S. President. And sadly I must also say nay to the analysis or reaction of Joe Volk to the Nobel (Peace??) speech of Mr Obama. I do not find that President Obama has demonstrated that he has either foot on the path to peace. He like so many before him has seemed to have been swallowed up by the inside the beltway madness syndrome. I was sorely disappointed with the speech….actually almost disgusted with its shallowness and Obama’s seemingly trying to link himself to the magnificent leaders, ML King Jr and Mahatma Gandi. I was filled with sadness that Obama could not see that reciting words from these two giants, MLKing Jr. and M. Gandhi…and then in this next breath dismissing them under the thin veils of endorsing war as protecting the American people and our country’s corporate imperialism. This was so very very inappropriate, like throwing justification for wars and violence in King’s and Gandhi’s faces and defacing their memories and their cherished unwavering messages of peace. Would that he could have seen the lost opportunities to stimulate the rise of such look alike latent giants in the region of the Afghan-Pakistan region at Badshah Kahn, the non-violent soldier of Islam, or Greg Mortenson’s true peace building through unselfish person to person compassionate support.

  4. Loren Raymond permalink
    December 13, 2009 11:41 am

    Joe Volk’s Dec 10 and 12 comments take somewhat opposing positions — let’s give President Obama a chance to move towards peace vs. President Obama’s Afghanistan policy is wrong. Where exactly does he stand?

    A week before accepting the Peace Prize, which in perspective he should have declined, President Obama came down on the side of “War is the answer.” A Charlotte Observer letter to the editor today suggested that the Nobel speech could be reduced to the Orwellian “war is peace” statement. The lengthy Obama apologetic did disservice to the memories of Ghandi and King. FCNL should not let itself drift towards the position of compromising Christian principles in the hope that doing so will eventually bring Obama and his supporters closer to the “War is not the Answer” position. In these issues I think David Connor Jones makes some legitimate points. Jesus loved the sinner, but did not adopt his or her ways in the hope that s/he would subsequently change and follow him. He stuck to his messages of love, economic justice, and peace. This should remain as FCNL’s model.

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