10 December 2009

Obama Utters the E(vil) and T(errorist) Words

During his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Award, President Obama uttered the words "evil" and "terrorism" echoing President Bush, who was so often accused of using those words in service of 'fear-mongering.'
"But 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 is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason. ... America's commitment to global security will never waiver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come."
The President also managed to simultaneously be humble ("Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize – Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela – my accomplishments are slight.") and give a defense of just war theory. All of this was good. Of course, it would have been nice if he could have managed to do this without snubbing the Norwegians, irritating yet another traditional ally, and without subtle disparagement of his predecessors ("Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention – no matter how justified."), but perhaps that's too much to ask from this president. He seems incapable of making a clear, definitive statement of American power without undercutting himself. Subtle and careful thought are always desirable in a leader, and their lack was President Bush's greatest weakness, but it's also necessary for the president to promote the strength and history of his own country. In seeking to be the anti-Bush, Obama is in danger of making equally important mistakes in the opposite direction.
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