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Obama's peace and war



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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December 24, 2009

LONDON - The American president, Barack Obama, has made the greatest speech ever uttered by a government leader in the twenty first century. Even comparing him with the great orators of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler he comes out in the top five- and that is just for delivery. As for content he is alone in the top place.

Very few papers have published the full text and even less television programmes have run the full speech, which suggests that editors do not know their history and cannot perceive its significance.

For the head of state of the one remaining superpower, whose military spending dwarfs the sum of all the world’s militaries combined, to talk of “the law of love” between peoples, to conjure up the examples of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, quoting the former as saying, “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones” is astonishing.

Even more astonishing is Obama’s statement, “I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.”

There is no cynicism in this man, no double speak, no blather and no fear. What you see is what you get. He told the audience in Oslo gathered to witness his award of the Nobel Peace Prize that “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 idealised world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practised by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached - their faith in human progress - must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.”

Obama may well be president of the U.S. for 8 years. With this kind of vision the changes in American foreign policy are going to be profound. He once said that turning the direction of the U.S was like turning an oil tanker. It takes many miles of ocean to achieve.
But one can imagine some of the things that might happen. Already he has pledged to close Guantanamo and to prohibit torture. It may well be he will allow the prosecution of ex vice president Dick Cheney, ex secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld and other high officials to be sent for trial for war crimes.

He will certainly over time cut the budget of the armed forces. He will allow the military to serve in the peacekeeping operations of the UN, whilst upping the expenditure on UN efforts whether they are peacekeeping, helping refugees or saving the lives of children. He will increase aid to deserving countries. He will work to eliminate malaria, measles, malnutition, leprosy and the other maladies of human beings that could be eradicated quickly for far less than is now being spent on AIDS. He will dismantle trade barriers that hurt developing countries. He will push hard for human rights, which will mean not just pushing the cause abroad but moving to have ratified the half dozen treaties on human rights waiting for attention- such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He will push very hard for nuclear disarmament, a policy that already has found a partner in Russia.

Likewise he will leave no stone unturned to halt and roll back the spread of nuclear weapons. There will be no more Iraqs justified by misleading barefaced twisting of the evidence. There will be no more arms supplied to corrupt and violent dictators. And he will step up America’s efforts to control global warming and pollution.

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These policies won’t be implemented overnight. At least they will take 8 years and probably longer. But if he convinces the voters of the value of changing U.S. foreign policy in a more benign direction a successor who believes in the same cause will succeed him.

Obama also made what many will consider a contradictory point that violence and armed force in some situations has to be used. “As a head of state sworn to protect my nation, I cannot be guided by their [Gandhi and King] example alone. I face the world as it is.”
He defended America’s role in Afghanistan although many argue that this is a great mistake that could ruin all his dreams.

He has said that America will start to withdraw by the summer of the year after next. The pressures to stretch this timetable will be enormous. This will test his will, his political skills and above all his high ideals.  A lot will depend on how the peoples of the world speak in his support.


Copyright © 2009 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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