Tag Archives: peace prize

Once lauded as a peacemaker, Obama’s tenure fraught with war

Seven years ago this week, when a young American president learned he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize barely nine months into his first term — arguably before he’d made any peace — a somewhat embarrassed Barack Obama asked his aides to write an acceptance speech that addressed the awkwardness of the award.

But by the time his speechwriters delivered a draft, Obama’s focus had shifted to another source of tension in his upcoming moment in Oslo: He would deliver this speech about peace just days after he planned to order 30,000 more American troops into battle in Afghanistan.

The president all but scrapped the draft and wrote his own version.

The speech Obama delivered — a Nobel Peace Prize lecture about the necessity of waging war — now looks like an early sign that the American president would not be the sort of peacemaker the European intellectuals of the Nobel committee had anticipated.

On matters of war and peace, Obama has proven to be a confounding and contradictory figure, one who stands to leave behind both devastating and pressing failures, as well as a set of fresh accomplishments whose impact could resonate for decades.

He is the erstwhile anti-war candidate, now engaged in more theaters of war than his predecessor. He is the commander-in-chief who pulled more than a hundred thousand U.S. troops out of harm’s way in Iraq, but also began a slow trickle back in. He recoiled against full-scale, conventional war, while embracing the brave new world of drone attacks and proxy battles. He has championed diplomacy on climate change and nuclear proliferation and has torn down walls to Cuba and Myanmar, but also has failed repeatedly to broker a lasting pause to more than six years of slaughter in Syria.

If there was consensus Obama had not yet earned his Nobel Peace Prize when he received it in 2009, there’s little such agreement on whether he deserves it today.

“I don’t think he would have been in the speculation of the Nobel committee now, in 2016, even if he had not already won,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and a close watcher of the Nobel committee. Harpviken said he views Obama’s foreign policy as more conventional and limited than he expected, particularly when it comes to using multilateral cooperation and institutions.

When it comes to finding new instruments for peace, he said, “Obama has been stuck in the old paradigm.”

In many respects, Obama’s tenure has been a seven-year debate over whether the president has used the tools of war to try to make peace too much or little.

Obama has been sharply criticized for his refusal to use force to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad, cripple his air force or more aggressively engage in diplomatic efforts to end the fighting. Many view Obama’s policies as an unfortunate overcorrection from the George W. Bush-era Iraq war.

“The president correctly wanted to move away from the maximalist approach of the previous administration, but in doing so he went to a minimalist, gradualist and proxy approach that is prolonging the war. Where is the justice in that?” said Ret. Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik, a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and the author of the book, “Just War Reconsider.” Obama should have worked harder to rally a coalition around a shared vision of a stable Middle East, he said.

“Part of the requirement of leadership,” Dubik said, “is to operate in that space between where the world is and where the world ought to go.”

The president’s advisers dismiss such critiques as a misguided presumption that more force yields more peace. Cold-eyed assessments of the options in Syria show no certainty of outcomes.

“In Syria, there is no international basis to go to war against the Assad regime. Similarly, there’s no clearly articulable objective as to how it would play out. What is the end that we’re seeking militarily? “ said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “The president doesn’t believe you can impose order through military force alone.”

But Obama has in many other cases been willing to use limited force to achieve limited objectives, even risking unintended consequences.

He has ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Syria, actions that that have killed civilians and sparked tension in those countries and across the international community. What began as a secret program has become more transparent and Obama has aimed to leave legal limits for his predecessor on the use of unmanned warplanes.

But he has left unanswered the question of how or when those actions will lead to peace, some argued.

Looking back on his Nobel speech, that dilemma was already there, said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert and former State Department official.

“What’s strikes me most is how different our concept of war was seven years ago,” he said. “We are engaged in a whole series of infinitely sustainable, low-level actions that have no logical endpoint. When do we stop doing drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan? What level of terrorism is acceptable? … We’re engaged in battles with a whole range of groups that are never going to surrender, so how do you decide to stop it? How do you decide what winning looks like?”

Today in history: Dec. 10

Today is Wednesday, Dec. 10, the 344th day of 2014. There are 21 days left in the year. 

Highlights in history on this date: 

1520 – Martin Luther publicly burns the papal edict demanding that he recant or face excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. 

1719 – The first recorded sighting of the Aurora Borealis takes place in New England. 

1810 – Napoleon Bonaparte annexes northern Hanover, Bremen, Hamburg, Lauenburg and Lubeck, Germany. 

1898 – The Treaty of Paris between United States and Spain ends the Spanish-American War with Spain ceding Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States for $20 million. 

1899 – British forces are defeated by the Boers at Stromberg, South Africa. 

1906 – U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for helping mediate an end to the Russo-Japanese War. 

1931 – Social worker and pacifist Jane Addams becomes a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American woman so honored. 

1936 – King Edward VIII of Britain abdicates with the intention of marrying American divorcee Wallis Simpson. His brother, the Duke of York, becomes King George VI. 

1948 – U.N. General Assembly in Paris unanimously adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Six members of the Soviet bloc, Saudi Arabia and South Africa abstain. 

1950 – U.N. Mideast peace mediator Ralph J. Bunche is presented the Nobel Peace Prize, the first black American to receive the award. 

1958 – The first domestic passenger jet flight takes place in the United States as a National Airlines Boeing 707 flies 111 passengers from New York City to Miami. 

1963 – Zanzibar becomes independent within the Commonwealth. 

1964 – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. receives the Nobel Peace Prize. 

1967 – World’s first commercial thermonuclear blast takes place in the U.S. state of New Mexico, to give access to natural gas from underground deposits. 

1973 – Austria closes its transit center for Jews leaving the Soviet Union. 

1976 – In Lebanon, a truce accord ends fighting between Muslims and Christians in the south, clashes among Palestinian factions, heightened tensions among rival Christian parties and a Syrian crackdown against the Lebanese press. 

1980 – Milton Obote is sworn in as Uganda’s president, becoming the first African president ousted in a military coup to recapture the presidency. He was ousted by the army for the second time in 1985. 

1983 – Democracy returns after seven years of dictatorship in Argentina, as Raul Alfonsin is sworn in as president. 

1988 – Chinese troops shoot into crowds of Tibetans demonstrating in Lhasa for human rights. 

1991 – Yugoslav federal army pulls out of Zagreb, and Croatia and Serbia exchange hundreds of prisoners, but fighting continues elsewhere in Croatia. 

1992 – Troops open fire on a truckload of Somalis who barrel through a French checkpoint, killing two and injuring seven in the first bloodshed of the U.S.-led military mission in Somalia. 

1993 – African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela says he and President F. W. de Klerk are bound by the Nobel Peace Prize they accepted to spend the rest of their lives building a democratic, nonracial South Africa. 

1994 – Leaders of the Western Hemisphere’s 34 democracies pledge to negotiate the world’s largest duty-free trade zone by 2005; South African President Nelson Mandela signs a constitution guaranteeing equal rights to all races. 

1997 – Palestinians begin their first census in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and are attacked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for violating Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem. 

2001 – U.S. authorities charge a California bus company with illegally transporting tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

2006 – Hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah members and their allies flood central Beirut, demanding changes in the Lebanese government’s makeup as soldiers strengthen protection around the offices of the Western-backed premier. 

2007 – Cristina Fernandez is sworn in as Argentina’s first elected female president. 

2008 – Britain’s obsession with reality television reaches new heights with the broadcast of the assisted suicide of a 59-year-old terminally ill American at a Swiss clinic. 

2009 – President Barack Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, offering a striking defense of war at the same time as he makes an impassioned case for building a “just and lasting peace.” 

2010 – The eccentric leader of the brutal La Familia drug cartel is believed to have been killed in a shootout during two days of fighting between federal police and gunmen that terrified civilians across a western Mexican state. 

2011 – Tens of thousands of people hold the largest anti-government protests that post-Soviet Russia has ever seen to criticize electoral fraud and demand an end to Vladimir Putin’s rule. 

2012 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses the international community of “deafening silence” in response to recent vows by the head of the militant group Hamas to fight on until the Jewish state is destroyed.

2013 – President Barack Obama energizes tens of thousands of spectators and nearly 100 visiting heads of state at a memorial  service in Johannesburg with a plea for the world to emulate Nelson Mandela, “the last great liberator of the 20th  century” in a eulogy for the prisoner who became peacemaker.

Today’s Birthdays: 

Ada King Lovelace, English mathematician and world’s first computer programmer (1815-1852); Cesar Franck, Belgian composer (1822-1890); Emily Dickinson, U.S. poet (1830-1886); Melvil Dewey, U.S. librarian/inventor of the Dewey Decimal System (1851-1931); Mary Norton, English children’s author (1903-1992); Susan Dey, U.S. actress (1952–); Kenneth Branagh, British actor (1960–). 

Thought For Today: 

I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing — Oscar Wilde, Irish poet, dramatist, author (1856-1900).

Nobel Peace Prize winners urge U.S. to fully disclose use of torture

Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners this week sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling on the United States to provide full disclosure of the authorization, extent and use of torture and rendition in the years following 9/11.

The letter, signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jose Ramos-Horta, said the president’s recent admission that the United States engaged in torture is a first step at reckoning but that a great deal more needs to be done, including releasing the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s long-awaited report on the CIA’s use of torture.

The Nobel laureates also called on the United States to verify that “black sites” for the use of torture and interrogation abroad have been closed, shutter the Guantanamo Bay prison and adhere to the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention against Torture, according to a release from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Said ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero, “These men and women of courage and conscience rightly emphasize the historic crossroads our nation faces when the Senate’s landmark torture report is released. The eyes of the world are on President Obama to account for and forever ban the shameful use of torture, cruelty, and indefinite detention. Ordering an end to the CIA’s self-serving fight over redactions in the Senate report would be a good place to start. The laureates’ words are a powerful reminder that when we stray from our values and respect for human rights, the whole world feels the negative effects.”

Signatories on the letter include Desmond Tutu, José Ramos-Horta, Mohamed ElBaradei, Muhammad Yunus, Jody Williams, Oscar Arias Sanches, Frederik Willem de Klerk, Betty Williams, Bishop C. X. Belo, John Hume and Adolfo Peres Esquivel.

The letter, in part, reads, “We have reason to feel strongly about torture. Many of us among the Nobel Peace Prize laureates have seen firsthand the effects of the use of torture in our own countries. Some are torture survivors ourselves. Many have also been involved in the process of recovery, of helping to walk our countries and our regions out of the shadows of their own periods of conflict and abuse.

“It is with this experience that we stand firmly with those Americans who are asking the US to bring its use of torture into the light of day, and for the United States to take the necessary steps to emerge from this dark period of its history, never to return.

“In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend. They have again set an example that will be followed by others; only now, it is one that will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world, including against American soldiers in foreign lands. In losing their way, they have made us all vulnerable.”

Bradley Manning awarded international peace prize

Bradley Manning, the gay U.S. soldier on trial in the WikiLeaks case, has received honors from the International Peace Bureau.

The organization awarded the whistleblower its Sean MacBride Peace Prize “for his courageous actions in revealing information about US war crimes.”       

Manning was arrested in May 2010 after allegedly leaking more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, 400,000 U.S. Army reports about Iraq and another 90,000 about Afghanistan, as well as the material used in the “Collateral Murder” video produced by WikiLeaks. The video footage showed the the July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike and the 2009 Garani airstrike in Afghanistan.

Manning has been detained since his arrest, first in Kuwait, then in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Va., and then, after human rights groups protested his prison conditions, at a medium-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Manning pleaded not guilty in February to 10 of the 22 charges, which could carry a sentence of up to 20 years.

His trial is now nearing the end.

International Peace Bureau co-president Tomas Magnusson, in a news release, said, “Among the very highest moral duties of a citizen is to make known war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is within the broad meaning of the Nuremberg Principles enunciated at the end of the 2nd World War. When Manning revealed to the world the crimes being committed by the US military he did so as an act of obedience to this high moral duty.”