[Translated from GegenStandpunkt Marburg radio broadcast October 14, 2009]
The Nobel peace prize is awarded to Barack Obama. What is one supposed to make of this? Does Obama receive the prize because Americans have now suddenly become peace-loving? Do Americans now throw their nuclear weapons on the scrap heap unconditionally? Do they stop shooting in Afghanistan? By no means. So for what does such a person get such a prize?
When it comes to winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, one is indeed accustomed to a lot of bullshit, so here a little highlight on the people who have previously received this award: the most important group of award winners are the adversaries in wars and civil wars who sealed the results of their military conflicts with peace treaties (for example: Arafat / Peres and Rabin in 1994). In addition, there's the prize for useful idiots who acted sacrificially as a kind of ideological vanguard of the West, previously in communist enemy territory, now in countries with “bad governance” (for example: South Korean President Kim Dae-iung in 2000). And finally the bulk of the honorees are all sorts of practicing humanists who in no way disturb the worldwide force- and profit budgets (for example: Al Gore for his commitment to the climate in 2007).
Now the Nobel Prize committee, which awards the world's most important peace prize in memory of one of the biggest arms manufacturers and war profiteers (Mr. Nobel himself), once again makes a worthy choice: this time the acclaimed-by-the-whole-world new savior of the world, US President Obama, is chosen. Along with a lot of praise, right away there's also criticism of this; that he is not a worthy choice, because the President hasn't carried out any actions and as yet has only flourished hopeful speeches.
We think this criticism misses the point entirely. Because if one looks at what is behind the higher values and morally honorable titles with which Obama spreads this wave of hope in all his speeches, then one quickly sees that harsh imperialistic world power claims are formulated to the rest of the world of states, and that also this US president does not move one iota away from world leadership claims.
To anticipate our conclusions: we are not of the view that the peace which the political masters of business and force bestow on the globe is a welcome thing. We will also not intervene in the debate about which prize-winner receives the prize rightly or wrongly, but we want to show for what it is given, namely for efforts towards a peace which is not to be had without force. Towards that end, a telling quote from Obama:
“In order to advance our national security and our common security, we must call on the full arsenal of American power and ingenuity. To constrain rogue nations, we must use effective diplomacy and muscular alliances. To penetrate terrorist networks, we need a nimble intelligence community – with strong leadership … To maintain our influence in the world economy, we need to get our fiscal house in order. None of these expressions of power can supplant the need for a strong military. Instead, they complement our military, and help ensure that the use of force is not our sole available option.” (Obama, The American Moment: Remarks to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Speech on Restoring American Leadership, barackobama.com, April 23 2007)
Hence one sees which platform one is on if one demands actions from Obama and accuses the honorable committee in Norway of having given away the Nobel Peace Prize hastily.
What Obama wants to do differently in shaping the world according to his standards is simply and solely in the procedure of his actions, thus how he wants to help his nation once more move the international power structure back in the favor of the United States, a power structure that is widely acknowledged to have suffered severely under Bush Jr. Obama wants to withdraw nothing in the interest of the USA in globally determining in every last corner of the earth how states are entitled to be made and how every last speck has to arrange itself in the interest of the USA, but he breaks with the approach practiced until now by the politics of Bush Jr., which is generally considered to have failed in terms of successes for the USA. Obama's main criticism of Bush is not that Bush wanted to expand America's leadership in the world, but that Bush messed it up. Obama wants to assert the same as his predecessor, namely the self-evident validity of U.S. interests around the world, to try that now but with different political means.
Obama's “change” in international politics
When world leaders give idealistic slogans to their political plans for the world, announcing the dream of a better world or a mission for humanity, then this has to be taken with caution. The submissive manner of checking the leaders’ personalities for credibility is inappropriate: whether they mean what they say and have the means to keep their nice promises. However hopeful or skeptical, however quickly and deeply disappointed a civilian mood may be – they all trust their leaders. Because they all accept and adopt the political ideal presented to them as a yardstick for judging the deeds of the rulers – as a good task world leaders have to serve. And yet, when powerful national leaders solemnly invoke these border-crossing values, by which they make demands not only on their national rank and file but also remind their peers, they regularly announce quite plainly tough imperialist claims. In the end, the premise of this kind of political message is that they are responsible for civilizing the world, in which, as is known, nothing but rival rulers claim their rights.
What message does the new American president take to the world now? Barack Obama goes all over the world with his desire for “change.” In big speeches to various addressees he announces to the Russian like the Muslims, to the starving Africans like the peace-loving Europeans, yes even to the rogues of George Bush, that the USA now stands up for a big understanding with and between all states, and holds out an open hand to them. Gone is the era of confrontation and unilateral dictates from the White House. One could almost believe – and the applauding public all over the globe, above all the enthusiastic young followers of the new political star, actually take it this way – one could almost believe that the capitalist superpower has decided on a policy of self-moderation and has made a big resolution for reconciliation, and that the USA in the future will therefore eschew divergent and hostile national interests. However, the content of the announcement of a world-political “change,” as well as the diplomatic offensive started by Barack Obama, does not allow this interpretation.
Rather, two clarifications are contained in these announcements: first, the agenda of the President signals anything but a new modesty on the part of the American state power. Precisely in the emphatic insistence that the states and peoples of the world are linked beyond all differences, mainly by “common interests and shared values,” precisely in this the new administration clarifies the demand that foreign politics has to line up with American interests. The Obama administration spells out to the world the “global challenges” whose completion is required for the well-being of all.
Obama presents his political directives and orders to the states as their very own interests, which really none can refuse. So naturally Obama claims – supported by the superior means of power of his own nation – the authority for himself to assign rights and duties to the competing rulers in every region of the world, guaranteeing the equation of American and global security. It is thus the highest concern of the USA to bring the sovereign will of foreign states under its control. Here undoubtedly political continuity prevails: a US president is responsible for the world order, or he is no President.
Second, the new leader of the whole world demonstrates to its rulers, first and foremost, that he does “it” differently than Bush. If there is then a joke plus a handshake with the “rebel” Hugo Chavez or statements like “its up to Iranians to make decisions about who their leaders will be” and America is “not going to pick the next leader of Iran,” then such gestures stand for the fact that the Obama administration calls into question the friend-enemy-fronts which until yesterday were valid US policy. The willingness to cooperate, stressed everywhere, should leave no room for doubt that Obama takes his distance from the catalog of problems and strategies which his predecessor held to be imperative for asserting the claim to world leadership. A break is thus announced with the politics of George W. Bush.
Bush Jr. wanted to use the economic and military clout of the “only remaining world power” – after a hot and a cold war – for the production of the “new world order” and guarantee a definitive American regime over the states of the world. Al-Qaeda's attack on September 11, 2001 confirmed his suspicion that his predecessors had let the front against all types of anti-American activities slide; and the fact that the enforcement of a global American security order which no longer permits resistance required no less than a new type of world war. Bush's “Global War on Terrorism” executed the conviction that the use of the USA's superior war machinery represents the only promising means of success to destroy the enemies of America and to enforce obedience in the world of states.
The diplomacy of the Bush policy essentially consisted of imperatives, threats and demonstrative ignorance, and this corresponded to the program of no longer wanting to accept insubordinate regimes and disruptive nationalists who insist on their own rather than assigned rights. And this anti-terrorist world order policy has failed, according to the new President.
What does Obama now criticize in the international situation? What failed under Bush?
In the inspection of the international “situation,” the balance-sheet which is made of the competition of nations, Obama comes to quite devastating findings:
1. Terrorism is undefeated;
2. Other key threats to the national security of the USA, most notably the existence of nuclear technology in foreign hands or the need for it, were not approached with anything promising success.
Instead, notes the President,
- Nuclear proliferation increases;
- open conflicts for energy resources and climate inclemencies endanger growth and order;
- the allies of the USA distance themselves;
- old and new great powers threaten to become rivals;
- the international supervisory organizations lose their function of enforcing the desired order of competition.
So, in Obama's opinion, the balance of power has shifted to America's detriment.
- The status of the USA as leading power is attacked, its “natural authority” to dictate the proper use of state force is increasingly challenged by the states of the world;
- the credibility is severely damaged in the ability of the American military ability to stage wars as lessons that resistance against America is always futile;
- Obama certainly does not object to the very generous application of military force because it happens unpeacefully, but that this force does not lead to the desired success. Therefore, his first step after taking office was not to pull troops out of Afghanistan, but to reinforce them.
- And now, in addition to everything the Bush administration has blown, the current disastrous crisis undermines the economic foundation of the USA's world power.
And now what does Obama want to change? Correcting this threatening “international situation” for America is now the program. The critical stock-taking of the newly elected President at the same time clarifies in broad terms how he wants to restore and guarantee the ailing power of America. The “realism” which Obama prescribes for himself and his nation in place of the “ideological dogmatism” of the Bush administration sets new priorities and focuses on changing formulas: Obama wants to inspect the national self interest of foreign rulers as to whether and how they are to be made compatible with American demands, instead of suspecting the “regime” in question of the same anti-American activities.
Obama wants all the means available which the world power USA has at its disposal, to move flexibly in enforcing the claims of America and to avoid dangers to America instead of sending the “best army in the world” into avoidable wars. The new formula is now called “smart power.” In ordering the world, Obama sets increasingly on cooperation, on proven allies as new partners to be won, instead of alienating friends by go it alone efforts or forcing rising competitors into confrontations. If a real threat requires the application of military force, then the military deployment should also be carried out effectively and with the help of allies.
Obama wants to ensure that America, at last, recaptures leadership in all the “future issues” which concern global business conditions, instead of leaving responsibility and advantages to the competitors. (Global business conditions such as energy security, new technologies, climate protection). And he wants to make the institutions of the “international community of states” again a suitable instrument of American “leadership.” The Obama administration sums all this up under the leitmotiv with which they serve their “change” to the “states and peoples of the world” as a chance for all: in the international politics of the USA, diplomacy should promptly – as the “spearhead of foreign policy” (H. Clinton) – again be given the honor which it deserves in the traffic of nations.
“I look forward to working with all of you to renew America's leadership through diplomacy that enhances our security, advances our interests, and reflects our values.” (Hillary Clinton, Senate Confirmation Hearing as Secretary of State, January 13, 2009)
The message aims at a positive response. In this, Obama and the world power USA which is now directed by him also agree: relief that the Bush line is demonstratively kissed goodbye, together with the hope that their own nation will now have an easier time protecting their contradictory interests and power ambitions. And even the warning voices of opinion-makers which refer here and elsewhere to the fact that new demands and extortionate offers on Washington will not fail to appear – already through “pressure from the conservative opposition” – even they live from this political “all-clear” signal.
The critical voices do not criticize the illusions, which aim at “good” world politics by “credible” leaders, but constructively prepare the rank and file of their own rule for possible disappointments.
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