Huffpost WorldPost
Barry Yourgrau Headshot

Obama's Nobel Speech: Wyatt Earp Does Mother Teresa

Posted: Updated:

Some first thoughts on Obama's acceptance speech. For instance, this passage:

"Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Am I wrong to see a rhetorical attempt here to conflate Hitler's "armies" with al-Quaida? That would be the al-Quaida which is estimated to be, generously, 200 (maybe 100) strong in Afghanistan? That the equivalent?

That "evil does exist in the world" is obviously and horrendously true. Now what? What necesarily follows from that assessment?

The tremendously acute observer Patrick Cockburn (who I think more reliable than the redoubtable and admirable Robert Fisk, and whose Mother Teresa citation I riffed on above) writes:

"Afghans in the areas where extra US and British troops will be sent, mostly in southern Pashtun provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar, fear that more foreign troops will simply mean more violence and more dead Afghans, according to opinion polls. Support for the Taliban is highest where civilians have been killed by shelling or bombing by foreign forces.

He goes on: "One of the most foolish and misleading claims by US and British generals is that fighting a guerrilla war can successfully be combined with dispensing aid and building bridges and roads. But, as one commentator puts it, such a mixture of Wyatt Earp and Mother Teresa is not feasible. Soldiers are trained to get what they want by force and that is generally what they do. Afghans whose families have just been killed by a bomb will not be conciliated by a fine new drainage system."

I scanned Obama's text for invocations of democratic consent from the Afghan people for more troops, more compassionate war. Isn't this supposed to be part of our mix here? But no luck.

As Nicholas Kristof asks in the NY Times:

'So why wasn't the Afghan population more directly consulted?

'''To me, what was most concerning is that there was never any consultation with the Afghan shura, the tribal elders,'' said Greg Mortenson, whose extraordinary work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in ''Three Cups of Tea'' and his new book, ''From Stones to Schools.'' ''It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders' messages is we don't need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops."

'America's military spending in Afghanistan alone next year will now exceed the entire official military budget of every other country in the world. ' [my bold]

Kristof continues:

'Over time, education has been the single greatest force to stabilize societies. It's no magic bullet, but it reduces birth rates, raises living standards and subdues civil conflict and terrorism. That's why as a candidate Mr. Obama proposed a $2 billion global education fund -- a promise he seems to have forgot.'

Harold Pinter, who received this same prize as Obama a few years ago, wrote a notoriously scathing poem after the first Gulf War called "American Football." It's searing last line reads:

"Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth." Obama's Teresian revision would insert the phrase "with all due respect and human concern."

But does that change the line?

Let's not even mention Obama's DOJ's defense of John Yoo against prosecution for legal jerryrigging on behalf of torture. I guess the principles of the Nuremburg Trials were simply good for the movies.