An air of pleased embarrassment is emanating from the White House today. It may be seen that this was really the Nobel Speech Prize. The Oslo committee clearly wanted to jog some elbows, particularly European ones. President Obama has made all the right moves on many fronts -- nuclear disarmament, global warming, a reach-out to the Muslim world.
This might alternatively be called the Nobel Relief Prize, as the rest of the world breathes a sigh that the U.S. is no longer a unilateral, belligerent power. Simply to back away from the military overreach of the Bush era is reason to celebrate.
But a shadow hangs over the Nobel, thanks to its record of futility. A glaring example would be all the prizes given for negotiating a peace in the Middle East that never came. Attempts at peace are laudable, and perhaps they are the best we can do much of the time, but Obama should aim higher.
It's in his power to make this a real peace prize.
Because he's a sitting president, he's one of the few recipients with global power. And he sits atop a massive -- mega-massive, if you will -- military budget. The two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be object lessons in peace-making. If he has learned anything from these two conflicts, which are futile, impoverishing, and seemingly endless, Obama could lay down the following policies:
- Cutting America's nuclear stockpile immediately by 90%.
- fighting no wars without a strong array of wiling allies.
- Turning any conflict into a peacekeeping mission.
- Initiating a draft for future wars so that a tiny slice of the American population, generally the poorest and least educated, doesn't bear the burden of sacrifice alone.
- Dramatically curtailing future defense budgets.
- Ending America's supremacy in arms dealing.
A book could be written about each point; many have been. The toxic embrace of the military-industrial complex has made us a Jekyll-and-Hyde country. We see ourselves as agents of peace, but we have been on a war footing since Pearl Harbor. We call for disarmament while selling more advanced weapons systems than any other nation in the world. We lead the world, too, in developing new means of mechanized death. And we have been embroiled in more foreign adventures, by far, than any other country.
Peace begins with those who have the power to make peace. Obama stands in a unique position in this regard. Even though we've turned the corner from Bush's reckless belligerence, avowing peace isn't the same as action. The bald truth is that much of the world fears America, and our politicians and generals like it that way. But in an age of globalism, it's not feasible to want worldwide cooperation on climate change while holding all the cards in weapons. Fear doesn't fit well with cooperation.
At a personal level, each citizen is responsible for being a unit of peace. Without a shift in collective consciousness, we will sleepwalk into another war. It's inevitable when there's a massive military establishment and a passive citizenry. One productive step, I believe, is to disavow all forms of violence today, making your own stand for peace. If enough people do that, awareness can shift on a mass scale.
Peace is a silent campaign of the heart. Why not join, since noisy protest against war don't work? They just strengthen the hand of the war makers in the end. I've been involved in I Take the Vow
, which is about individuals renouncing violence in their lives at the levels of thoughts, speech, and action. But there are many other initiatives that donate time, money and heart to ending the reign of war.
Rest assured, the war machinery that exists in this country has inertia on its side. It has grown in power every day since 1941, when America entered the war against Japan. The only way to end two generations of military dominance is from the grassroots level. Obama showed that the grassroots can elect a president against all odds. The same is true here, even against far greater odds. It might even happen that this most conscientious of presidents will listen and learn, not taking his Nobel as a reward but as a wake-up call.