In a week marked by a series of contradictions that could make your head spin, Barack Obama accepted the Noble Peace Prize by channeling none other than George W. Bush. Not only did Obama repeat the Bush-era mantra that al-Qaida is evil incarnate, he snubbed the Norwegian royal family with Bush-like insolence.
And in a move that would make Karl Rove blush, the Nobel Peace Prize winner refused to attend a "Save the Children" concert. According to a story in the Christian Science Monitor, a cardboard Obama stood in for the president at the charity event. Add another item to this week's WTF list.
When Obama was named this year's Peace Prize recipient, conventional wisdom had it that the Nobel Committee selected Obama for one reason and one reason only: he's not George W. Bush. An important distinction to be sure, but hardly prize worthy. Or is it?
"The Nobel Peace Prize winner refused to attend a 'Save the Children' concert."
Inevitably, the Nobel Committee went on to suggest the prize was "aspirational" in nature and was awarded to Obama in recognition of his hard line against nuclear proliferation, his outreach to the Muslim world and his implicit rejection of Bush-era unilateralism. American news reports dutifully repeated the spin and seemed content to reaffirm Obama's brand identity as a peacemaker. Still, even the thick-as-a-brick U.S. press corps couldn't help but notice the irony that Obama collected his Nobel Peace Prize days after he announced his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan.
Of course, American reporters are a rather nimble lot and had little difficulty bending over backwards to avoid too much cognitive dissonance in their coverage of the Nobel ceremonies. For instance, in anticipation of Obama's acceptance speech, NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson sidestepped some of the more glaring contradictions of Obama's anti-war image. Instead, the report focused on how the speech was likely to play in the realm of domestic politics. "The Nobel speech is full of land mines for Obama," Liasson noted.
Notwithstanding Liasson's gift for hyperbole, her framing of the story was quite revealing. In a commentary for the Los Angeles Times, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams noted that Obama, like Bush before him, refuses to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. Williams writes, "Obama's position on land mines calls into question his expressed views on multilateralism, respect for international humanitarian law and disarmament. How can he, with total credibility, lead the world to nuclear disarmament when his own country won't give up even land mines?"
"Even the thick-as-a-brick U.S. press corps couldn't help but notice the irony that Obama collected his Nobel Peace Prize days after he announced his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan."
Needless to say, Williams -- who was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work as coordinator for International Campaign to Ban Landmines -- was not invited to share this perspective far beyond the editorial pages of the L.A. Times. Instead, pundits from across the political spectrum applauded the President's speech for its mix of realism and idealism.
For instance, on Thursday afternoon's edition of NPR's All Things Considered, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, surprised ATC host Robert Siegel with her upbeat assessment of Obama's acceptance speech. Ms. vanden Heuvel argued that the speech addressed the complexities of American politics and added: "It was a kind of speech that could be taught in a college course on just war [theory] and America's role in the world."
Talk about making your head spin. vanden Heuvel's assessment, like so many others that have been voiced in the establishment press, uncritically accepts Obama's flawed reading of post-WWII history.
Consider, for instance, Obama's take on American interventionism. "Whatever mistakes we have made," the President said, "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."
Obama supports this assertion with references to Germany and Korea but is all too willing to ignore the bloody history of U.S. imperialism in Central and South America: a region that has long been subjugated by American military and business interests.
Likewise, Obama and his apologists in the U.S. press corps neglect the unpleasant fact that American tax dollars, military hardware and political influence have underwritten the state of Israel's decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people. So much for a nuanced speech that addresses the complexities of U.S. militarism in the post-war era.
"For a great many Americans, the costs and consequences of Obama's war are hidden -- at least for the time being. "
What's more, the oft-repeated claim -- usually accompanied by a sigh of relief -- that Obama is not W misses the point.
Writing on AlterNet, David DeGraw makes a compelling and disturbing case that Obama is outpacing his much-maligned predecessor by escalating the war in Afghanistan through troop deployments, increased reliance on private military contractors and stepped-up use of predator drones. He may not be George W. Bush, but Barack Obama is clearly taking the role of a "war president."
For a great many Americans, the costs and consequences of Obama's war are hidden -- at least for the time being. But for those Americans who are currently serving in the armed forces, their families and the innocent civilians of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama's Nobel Peace Prize adds insult to injury.
In their latest press release, Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) responded to Obama's acceptance speech with characteristic grace and insight. MFSO Board member Kerri Wheelwright writes: "Escalating military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while maintaining the war in Iraq, which he promised to end, mocks the very idea of peace. For those of us military families with no peace in our lives, who are living with war and its after-effects in our very own homes, this is an insult."
Wheelwright continued, "President Obama has a lot to live up to if he is to ever be deserving of this award. As of now, it is a slap in the face to both the people of these war-torn countries, and to military families truly seeking the wars' end."
You needn't read between the lines of Obama's Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech to come to an Orwellian conclusion: for Obama, his national security advisors, and the establishment press, WAR IS PEACE.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of the recently released Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.