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Michael Kieschnick

Michael Kieschnick

Posted: November 28, 2009 05:25 PM

Second Thoughts on the Obama Peace Prize

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If I were on the selection committee for the Peace Prize, I would be having buyer's remorse about the selection of Barack Obama. Far from emboldening the president, the prize seems to have given him comfort to move the country away from taking stands that meet our international obligations.

In the last few days, Mr. Obama has decided to dramatically escalate our presence in Afghanistan, and announced weak and inadequate global warming goals to bring to Copenhagen.

Faced with the unholy trinity of a stolen election by a corrupt Afghani president, domestic concern over rapidly rising fiscal deficits, and a public challenge by his handpicked general to send tens of thousands of additional troops or lose the war, Mr. Obama has gone with tens of thousands of additional troops. Without doubt, the new strategy will include tough new anti-corruption standards that are not worth the paper they are printed on. And the Administration is far more likely to pressure progressive members of Congress to vote to expand the war than it might threaten Blue Dogs who vote against deficit-reducing health care reform. At $1 million per soldier per year (ever wonder how much of that goes to the soldier and how much goes to corporate contractors?), the Afghanistan misadventure heralds an Obama era without money for many campaign promises.

Regardless of the escalation and the anti-corruption rhetoric, we will almost certainly still lose by any reasonable definition of loss. Yes, a surge might temporarily appear to create a victory, but the rural and patriarchal forces of reaction among Afghanis, like the Iraqi Shiites, are patient and measure progress in decades. We may call it a victory, having spent a trillion dollars and thousands of lives, but it will be a loss nonetheless. Not since Genghis Kahn has anyone successfully occupied Afghanistan. No sane analyst would call what we have accomplished in Iraq a victory.

The White House also recently announced that the president would visit the global warming summit at Copenhagen and deliver a message that the U.S. will commit to lowering our greenhouse emissions by 17%. For those in the know - which will include most people in Copenhagen, this will be deeply disturbing.

The International Panel on Climate Change has argued that the science indicates that the developed countries (of which the U.S. is by far the largest polluter) must reduce their 2020 greenhouse emissions by 25% to 40% from 1990 levels. The White House, and the House legislation that they are referring to, do the equivalent of lowering the basketball rim from ten to eight feet and say they are dunking. The White House says it can commit to lowering emissions 17% from the levels of 2005 - fifteen years and a great deal of added pollution from 1990. The U.S. press may not notice, but the rest of the world surely will.

And it was not a good day to be Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose global warming legislation passed out of committee with a 20% reduction. With her own president stating a 17% goal, her position is now toast.

One of the pernicious effects of the international gathering at Copenhagen has been that it has been used to generate immense pressure to compromise the science with the battle cry - legislation must be passed so that Copenhagen will not fail. The lobbyists for the coal and oil industries were successful in leveraging the desire to pass ANY legislation with weakening the already weakened targets.

And having praised legislation that does not remotely meet the targets the best scientists believe are necessary, the Administration was willing to bargain away their only trump card - the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases beyond that legislated by Congress. The House legislation eliminated that power in a backroom deal with Rep. Boucher, D (coal industry) without public notice or debate.

As a sad result, the 17% House/Obama goal, rather than being a floor for reduction became an upper limit. An upper limit which literally ensures that global warming will get worse - most likely terribly worse. And most perversely, of course, the worst damage from global warming will not fall on those of us in the United States which has caused most of the problem, but on those in the developing world who have done the least.

I continue to hope for the best for President Obama. The Nobel committee rolled the dice betting that several good speeches were the down payment on fighting for tough changes. They got an expanded war and a guaranteed to fail approach to global warming.