December 10, 2009
Yes, the Nobel Committee gave its Peace Prize Barack Obama as a slam at George W. Bush and as a message to the United States that they like us best when we act more like a hand-wringing Uriah Heep (Im a very humble man) than a confident Ronald Reagan.
Yes, President Obama should have declined the award. A person with more humility and moral courage would have done so, although the temptation to accept it would be high for anyone.
Yes, he omitted any mention of our engagement in Iraq other than to say that our efforts there are winding down, and hypocritically mentioned that the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression without mentioning that the same consensus existed to remove Saddam in 2003-2004.
But for once, President Obama at least sounded like an American President, not a self-doubting teenage swain as he spoke to the assembled crowd in Oslo. Consider this stirring passage:
… 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 other people’s children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
He also said that military force is sometimes justified for a liberal, not a bad affirmation:
… 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 nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaidas 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.
Interestingly, some of the Presidents greatest advocates disdained former President Bush for stating that good and evil exist and that God is not neutral between them. I wonder if these same dyspeptic ethical relativists will attack their Democratic Lochinvar for his asseveration.
The President also spoke of human imperfectability, a term that leaps from the page: A central premise of liberalism, from Rousseau to Marx, is that man can be perfected by socio-economic structures that reshape his external, and thus his internal, character (e.g., the New Soviet Man and even Obamas campaign declaration which he later disavowed that we can build the kingdom of God on earth).
President Obama mentioned the spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Badly phrased theology, surely: Within each of us God has placed a moral law written on the heart (Romans 2:15), but without regeneration in Christ no one carries within himself the presence of God. Yet to claim there is a Divinity and that the human soul exists is nice to hear from a man so identified with post-modern sensibilities.
Happily, the President also noted and sought to rectify the salient historic dispute in American foreign policy: Within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values. I reject this choice.
Good: American interests and values coincide. To abandon our interests for the sake of our values, or vice-versa, is to pose a false option. In World War II, for example, our interest was in defending our country from two aggressive, totalitarian and hegemonistic powers, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. In doing so, we ended regimes wanton with the blood of millions and violently oppressive of all essential human rights.
The same could be said for Afghanistan and, based on the evidence we believed we had about Saddams potential threat in 2003, Iraq.
Finally, it was good to hear the President allude to the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice …
… those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women some known, some obscure to all but those they help to be far more deserving of this honor than I.
He is right: As noted above, a man of greater nobility of spirit would have declined accepting the Nobel Prize and asked that it be bestowed on others more deserving. But at least he mentioned these people generally.
To put a face on at least one of them, Ill mention one of them. Gao Zhisheng is a Christian attorney who has spent many years defending the religious liberties of his fellow Chinese. For his efforts, he has been tortured, kidnapped and held in prison without any due process repeatedly. Married with two children, Gao has been subject to what respected Chinese human rights activist Bob Fu has called the most severe persecution in modern Chinas history.
Gao has not been seen since February 4, when he was taken away by police. Recent reports indicate he is alive but still being held and tortured.
In 2007, Gao was incarcerated unjustly for nearly two months and brutalized throughout his entire prison stay. From electric batons shoved in his face to unspeakable tortures to his extremities, Gao was brutalized in a manner that defies description. All this, simply for protecting and defending his countrymens rights of religious liberty and free exercise of conscience.
Gao Zhiseng has sought to bring peace to thousands by working for true religious liberty in China. Alfred Nobel would have been proud to bestow his Peace Prize upon him. We can only wonder what Mr. Nobel would have thought of the achievements of this years recipient.