Love, fear and the Nobel Peace Prize
Christie Pesavento | Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Barely twelve days into his presidency, the wise Norwegians on the Nobel Committee nominated Barack Obama to be the next winner of the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. The absurdity of this decision is self-evident; how could a fledgling president, one who faced criticism during the campaign for his lack of accomplishments, possibly qualify as a candidate for such an honor?
But the committee did not stop there. This past Friday, the world awoke to discover that the Prize had been awarded to Mr. Hope-and-Change himself. “Thanks to Obama’s initiative,” the committee declared upon its announcement, “the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.”
Translation: We hate George W. Bush and his “my way or the highway” approach to foreign policy. We hope that this award will encourage Obama in fulfilling his promise to bend America to the collective will of the international community.
Since those twelve fateful days that marked the beginning of President Obama’s quest for world peace, we have witnessed just how far he is willing to go to distance himself from his predecessor on the world stage. In the Spring, he embarked upon a whirlwind Apology Tour, begging the world to forgive America for its past arrogance and dismissive attitude toward Europe, for its decision to use the atomic bomb to end World War II, for setting off the recent financial crisis, for failing to properly pursue “engagement” with our Latin American neighbors, for torturing terrorist detainees, for denying African Americans the right to vote, for its ill-treatment of Native Americans, and on ad infinitum. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that Obama had managed to change our nation’s image and thus pave the way toward a safer, stronger America. Yet instead of echoing Obama’s pathetic attempts to win concessions through admission of weakness, other nations gleefully declared the beginning of the end of American primacy and offered neither concrete concessions nor admissions of sins.
September saw the second phase of the Obama Plan for Peace come to fruition. During this phase, the president threw a number of dedicated American allies under the bus in hopes of gaining favor among the international community for sanctions against Iran. He used his platform at the United Nations General Assembly to declare that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” in an effort to appease Middle Eastern dictators by trying to draw some sort of moral equivalency between states that promote terrorism and one whose security is threatened daily by its staunchly anti-Semitic neighbors. As if that was not enough, he then sold out the Czech Republic and Poland by scrapping a missile-defense security arrangement in accordance with Russian demands. Funny, I seem to recall a similar selling-out taking place in the 1930s involving Czechoslovakia, a naive British Prime Minister, and a tiny-mustached dictator… except this time, Obama did not even get a signature on a piece of paper: he got nothing. He even snubbed the Dalai Lama by refusing to meet with him in Washington after the Chinese stepped up their campaign to urge nations to spurn the Nobel Peace Prize winner and spiritual leader of Tibet, all to avoid creating controversy ahead of Obama’s meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
It looks like Obama has come up with a new twist on the saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” replacing it with something like, “keep your enemies close and abandon your allies.”
The problem with this approach to foreign affairs is that its obsessive fixation on rejecting the Bush doctrine also dismisses its strengths. Now I am not saying that Bush’s foreign strategy was perfect, but it does not warrant the complete 180 degree turnaround that characterizes the current administration’s strategy. The reason for this observation is best understood in light of Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous statement that if a leader cannot be both loved and feared it is safer for him to be feared, as long as he avoids inciting hatred. “Men,” he states, “are less worried about harming somebody who makes himself loved than someone who makes himself feared, for love is held by a chain of obligation which, since men are bad, is broken at every opportunity for personal gain. Fear, on the other hand, is maintained by a dread of punishment which will never desert you.”
While Bush and his foreign policy advisors understood the utility of fear, their actions stirred the already-simmering cauldron of anti-Americanism until it bubbled over into hatred. Obama, on the other hand, naively presumes that international relations are built upon the universal hope to achieve world peace and cooperation. Sadly this is not the case. Nations, like men in the state of nature, are focused on furthering their own interests in the fight to survive, and the most effective means of survival is to achieve global hegemony. Otherwise, the threat of being subject to the will of another, more powerful nation is omnipresent. In its failure to understand this fundamental fact, the current administration has set us upon a course of action that will do more to harm the prospect of peace than to enable it, as demonstrated by its aggressive pursuit of international adoration that portrays America as weak and promotes the belligerence of our enemies.
Need proof? Just look to two rogue nations that, along with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, combined to form what President Bush called the “Axis of Evil.” Both North Korea and Iran continue unabashed in developing their nuclear weapons programs. Most recently, Iran launched another round of offensive missile tests amidst new revelations about an illegal uranium enrichment facility near Qom. And despite Obama’s unconditional concessions on missile defense and refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama, neither Russia nor China have budged on their refusal to sign onto any U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.
If Obama hopes to someday achieve a nuclear-free world, he sure has a strange way of putting words into action. Ironically, the Nobel Prize Committee justified its decision to award Obama the Peace Prize based on its attachment of “special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” Perhaps if the President sought to take Machiavelli’s advice into account, built on the more favorable stance the world has toward his goals and intentions, he would prove himself worthy of this honor. But as long as he continues down the aggressively anti-Bush path, he will sacrifice efficacy for mere ideology and posturing.
Christie Pesavento is a senior who is majoring in political science and sociology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.