Will The Norwegians Think Twice?

A couple of days ago people reported seeing eerie lights over Norway.

Turns out it was the Russkies, testing a new nuclear-capable missile. I love it that the President was in Norway today promoting disarmament at practically the same moment the Russians were signaling how seriously they are likely to take such measures.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting speech, and while I disagree with much of it (notably the criticism of the Iraq war), this was not a bad speech to give to the Norwegians. After praising the non-violence of Gandhi & Martin Luther King, Jr., he said:
as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, 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. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

The rest of the speech is more or less a guilt trip aimed at getting more European help in Afghanistan.
I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice.
His desire for more UN & regional peacekeepers strikes me as dubious, but his insistence that the UN and other international organizations should do more than talk could have come from George Bush.
if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.Intransigence must be met with increased pressure -- and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.
it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

Well: the problem is that at a certain point war is the only increase in pressure possible. Obama can't really deal with that, because it would force him to see Bush's point on Iraq. But to the extent he's on record being against -say- Oil For Spoils and the bored, routine use of sanctions as an opportunity for UN diplomats to enrich themselves by opening black markets, that's good.

And perhaps he learned something from criticism of his refusal to say anything about human rights abuses when he travels. He finally stands up for the Iranian protesters, eg:
I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests -- nor the world's -- are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements -- these movements of hope and history -- they have us on their side.
That much is pretty good. Then he gets silly.
The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy.

His examples reveal once again how little he understands history:
In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable -- and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There's no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.
Pressure and incentives, yes. But Reagan didn't embrace Perestroika, he forced it. He pressured the Soviets by outspending them militarily; funding their opponents in Afghanistan, Angola & throughout Latin America; fighting and defeating their proxies in Grenada; standing up for their dissidents; being a tough negotiator; calling them the "Evil Empire," etc, etc. The open door came when they moved and not until.

The John Paul II example is nonsense. He didn't engage the Communists, he engaged the people of his flock in defiance of the government.

And Nixon was triangulating the Chinese against the Soviets, whatever salutary side-effects there may have been (are the Chinese free?). If I were the President who had just been tricked into giving a joint press conference at which no questions were permitted, I don't think I'd be citing the Chinese example.

Then comes the obligatory peace through climate change blah de blah and other boilerplate.

Next comes the most controversial assertion he makes. I do appreciate the fact that he continues to insist that al-Qaeda is filled with blasphemers whose religion we don't have to pretend to respect, for they have none. But dig this stunning piece of moral equivalence:
they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Without denying the ugly history of war and the sins of Christians and Jews, I think that's a problem only for a certain particular religion qua religion (every people sins). The other two major peoples of the book would consider it dishonorable to do such things deliberately. And I don't think history provides any evidence at all that godless soldiers are more kind than religious ones to pregnant women and Red Cross workers. Has the President never heard of Nazis, the Red Army, the Viet Cong?

And then he conflates faith in the better angels of our nature with faith in human progress:
we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached -- their fundamental faith in human progress -- that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith -- if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace -- then we lose what's best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.
Oy. That's very confused and is in tension with the end:

Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

I have to note, continuing my thesis that high school sophomores write these things, that I can't recall a presidential text that had so many problems with subject/verb agreement.

I think this speech more than any other of his I've read probably is Obama, for better and for worse. The biggest problem with it --and with anything this President says-- is that it has nothing whatever to do with the way he governs.