Friday, December 11, 2009

The Nobel Prize for American Exceptionalism

I am far less of a Barack Obama fan now than I was when I voted for him--and he was merely the lesser of two evils even then. Still, Obama's most endearing trait, to me, is that he makes mistakes, recognizes them, learns from them, and seeks to correct them.

The Obama Administration's foreign policy has, for most of this year, been marked by an attempt to portray America as just another country. Obama hoped that, through a little humility, he could jump-start a set of diplomatic initiatives that would ultimately be beneficial for the US.

It hasn't worked. It has made our negotiating position markedly weaker. It has made us an object of contempt by some of the worst leaders in the world.

So I have to say that I am delighted when, in Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he says the following:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

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 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.

Obama is not backing down from his desire to outlaw torture, or to close Guantanamo, or to abide by international norms. Nor is he backing away from his extreme reluctance to use force and his strategy of diplomacy above all. Nor should he. However, the acknowledgment that America is the only power capable of wielding force for good purposes, and his refusal to be ashamed of it, is a major evolution in his foreign policy. Even more important, he has put Iran on notice that his diplomacy has limits, in both policy and time.

One speech does not a strategy make, but it's a start.

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