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Once lauded as a peacemaker, Obama’s tenure fraught with war

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, pumps his fist as they watch the torch parade from the balcony of their hotel in Oslo, Norway.

WASHINGTON >> Seven years ago this week, when a young American president learned he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize barely nine months into his first term — arguably before he’d made any peace — a somewhat embarrassed Barack Obama asked his aides to write an acceptance speech that addressed the awkwardness of the award.

But by the time his speechwriters delivered a draft, Obama’s focus had shifted to another source of tension in his upcoming moment in Oslo: He would deliver this speech about peace just days after he planned to order 30,000 more American troops into battle in Afghanistan.

The president all-but scrapped the draft and wrote his own version.

The speech Obama delivered — a Nobel Peace Prize lecture about the necessity of waging war — now looks like an early sign that the American president would not be the sort of peacemaker the European intellectuals of the Nobel committee had anticipated.

On matters of war and peace, Obama has proven to be a confounding and contradictory figure, one who stands to leave behind both devastating and pressing failures, as well as a set of fresh accomplishments whose impact could resonate for decades.

He is the erstwhile anti-war candidate, now engaged in more theaters of war than his predecessor. He is the commander-in-chief who pulled more than a hundred thousand U.S. troops out of harm’s way in Iraq, but also began a slow trickle back in. He recoiled against full-scale, conventional war, while embracing the brave new world of drone attacks. He has championed diplomacy on climate change, nuclear proliferation and has torn down walls to Cuba and Myanmar, but failed repeatedly to broker a lasting pause to more than six years of slaughter in Syria.

If there was consensus Obama had not yet earned his Nobel Peace Prize when he received it in 2009, there’s little such agreement on whether he deserves it today.

“I don’t think he would have been in the speculation of the Nobel committee now, in 2016, even if he had not already won,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and a close watcher of the Nobel committee. Harpviken said he views Obama’s foreign policy as more conventional and limited than he expected, particularly regarding his use of multilateral cooperation and institutions.

When it comes to finding new instruments for peace, he said, “Obama has been stuck in the old paradigm.”

By some sobering measures, the case for Obama the peacemaker is difficult to make. Analysts who track conflict, refugee populations, terrorist attacks and political upheaval say the world has only become less peaceful during Obama’s tenure, a trend that began just before he took office.

Instances of terrorism have peaked, deaths in battle around the world are at a 25-year high, and the number of refugees and displaced people has reached a level not seen in sixty years, according to the 2016 Global Peace Index, a report on international stability produced by the nonpartisan think-tank the Institute for Economic and Peace. The researchers attributed the trends to the expanded warfare in the Middle East and North Africa and broad ripples across the region and in Europe.

Few would blame global strife on one man, even the commander of the world’s most powerful military. And if anything, Obama’s legacy— and his supporters would say his strength — is a steady wariness of limits of using that military without triggering unintended consequences.

That wariness has led to a seven-year debate over whether the president has used the tools of war to try to make peace too much or little.

The president’s Nobel acceptance speech delivered to Oslo in December 2009 is something of a roadmap to Obama’s thinking on use of force. In it, the president affirmed his readiness to wage war in self-defense and called for new thinking on the concept of “just war.”

“More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region,” Obama said, years before war broke out in Syria. “Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That’s why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.”

Critics do not see Obama heeding his own call to responsible nations. Obama’s refusal to use force to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad, cripple his air force or more aggressively engage in diplomatic efforts to end the fighting have been a steady source of criticism. Many view it as an unfortunate overcorrection from the George W. Bush-era Iraq war.

“The president correctly wanted to move away from the maximalist approach of the previous administration, but in doing so he went to a minimalist, gradualist and proxy approach that is prolonging the war. Where is the justice in that?” said Ret. Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik, a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and the author of the book, “Just War Reconsider.” Obama should have worked harder to rally a coalition around a shared vision of a stable Middle East:, he believes. “Part of the requirement of leadership,” Dubik said, “is to operate in that space between where the world is and where the world ought to go.”

The president’s advisers contend such criticism comes from a misguided presumption that more force yields more peace. Cold-eyed assessments of the options in Syria show no certainty of outcomes, they say, only risk of broader conflict.

“In Syria, there is no international basis to go to war against the Assad regime. Similarly, there’s no clearly articulable objective as to how it would play out. What is the end that we’re seeking militarily?” said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “The president doesn’t believe you can impose order through military force alone.”

But Obama has in many other cases been willing to use limited force to achieve limited objectives, even risking unintended consequences.

He has ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Syria that have killed civilians and sparked tension in those countries and across the international community. What began as a secret program has become more transparent as Obama has aimed to leave legal limits for his predecessor on the use of unmanned warplanes.

But he has left unanswered the question of how or when those actions will lead to peace, some argued.

Looking back on Obama’s Nobel speech, that dilemma was already there, said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert and former State Department official.

“What’s strikes me most is how different our concept of war was seven years ago,” he said. “We are engaged in a whole series of infinitely sustainable, low-level actions that have no logical endpoint. When do we stop doing drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan? What level of terrorism is acceptable? … We’re engaged in battles with a whole range of groups that are never going to surrender, so how do you decide to stop it? How do you decide what winning looks like?”

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  • OneBIgAssMistakeAmerica will go down as one of the worst Presidents ever. He, along with the Democrats, have destroyed the fabric of American society and thrown the world into chaos.

    • Ah yes, we need to bring back G W Bush, the finest republican president of all time. lol Sorry Peanut, I appreciate the fact that the stock market is now above 18000 instead of being below 7000

      • Yes, the already affluent have benefited disproportionately from the easy monetary policies of the Obama administration, resulting in a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to those in the upper tier. Instead of trickle down economics, it’s been trickle up.

        Unfortunately for the next President, the stock and real estate market bubbles are precariously close to bursting.

        • We know how bad it hurts when you have no arguments towards the comments your dealt with. lol

        • Sorry Pocho, the transfer of wealth from the middle class the rich has been going on long before Obama. It has been going on at least since that republican hero Reagan who gave us Voodoo economics. Shame you republicans now feel that deficits don’t matter and the hell with fiscal responsibility. Running a candidate who had close to a billion in losses is appropriate though. What is the republican motto going to be? We love red ink? lol

      • No president has been at war longer than B.O.

        Boots keeps making that claim about the stock market but chokes ad cannot answer when asked what BO did to help the stock market. It should be noted that your money earns practically zero interest in the bank as we speak.

        • What Obama did was to remove the country from voodoo economics. Obama didn’t go as far as he wanted to but he at least moved the country away from thinking that deficits don’t matter. Now if only republicans can learn this but no, instead they nominate a person who had close to a billion in losses. So much for fiscal responsibility.

        • “”What Obama did was to remove the country from voodoo economics.””

          Thanks for admitting you don’t know jack about the stock market.

      • Boots despite your preference to change the subject, the topic of this article is about Obama’s foolish war engagements around the world – not the stock market. However since you are also misinformed about why the stock market remains high I suggest you inform yourself about the effects of quantitative easing aka creation of fiat money to keep the stock market and economy artificially propped up.

    • This right here is an example why we have racial tension. Facts Boots. Stick to facts. You’re just as bad as Trump and Duarte with all your disembodied innuendos.

      • You deny many republicans did not like Obama not just because he was a democrat but because he was black? Republican leadership pledged on the day Obama first won the election to fight him every step of the way. Then go on tell me how the Donald is not racist but is just a poor country boy who is misunderstood. lol

      • Links Boots. If you’re going to accuse someone, publish some links to back up your comments. You seem to be full of opinions and low on facts. Digest this is you can: An opinion from any of your “sources” is still not a fact, it’s just that, an opinion.

    • What a fatuous remark. I know if I had referred to O’Bungle as an “uppity” I would have heard from the SA censors. Different standards for liberals no doubt.

  • Peacemaker…for WHAT?! lol Anyone with any conscious would return the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE!
    The book on POTUS for DUMMIES can now be written! Basics: Absolutely NO Racists/Activists/Agitators, Community Organizers. Must have Real Life experiences..Private Sector Jobs…eg running a Lemonade Stand etc.

  • barry soetero aka barak hussein obama is an embarrassment to the country his family and to himself
    he entered his presidency as a brash neolib and considered himself as the leader of the world
    he couldn’t even lead the usa much less a a group of schoolyard children
    his legacy will be a first black american president and his empty library of awards will only draw flies

    • lol, No Obama is not an embarrassment to the country. What would be an embarrassment is if the Donald becomes president. Here is a conman who lost close to a billion dollars in a year going to fix America’s problems? Now that is funny.

      • Hillary conned US citizens she worked fer! She was paid by “the People’s” tax dollars. Hillary was “sloppy” using her own email server. She like Sgt. Schult knew nothin, absolutely nothin! she never recalled the hard questions from the FBI replying like a sneaky fact hiding lawyer would.

  • Awards like the peace prize conjure up the conspiracy theory of his administration. His only contribution since becoming President was as a Senator and community organizer. Other than that globally he had not accomplished any act, deeds or wrote treatises on global issues? His infamous redline quote will haunt his legacy for sure. It would more honorable for him to refuse than to have accepted however tempting the award was? Since his helm at the wheel there has bee more refugees and displacement of populations than his predecessors.

  • A well-written op-ed piece. As with any analysis some fact checking is in order. But what is more troublesome is that there is reference only to expediency, and not to standards that should be upheld by America, specifically the Nuremberg principles and our own Constitution. It seems not to be even in our thinking to proceed from an approach grounded on bottom-line law. I would rather see a more principled tack. A starting point might be the ideas most recently articulated by Ron Paul. I hope some of them will come to be re-adopted as a better fundamental to U.S. action abroad than what has been our approach, with few exceptions, since World War One, and maybe prior.

  • Great article! Finally, SA writes a realistic article on the anointed one, the empty suit, BO. Now the corrupt Democrat Party wants a third term of Obama with HilLIARy, Hawaii, please do our part and make sure this doesn’t happen, we were fooled once, twice, but not thrice.

    • Obama is far from perfect but under his watch the stock market has risen from under 7000 to over 18,000. Unemployment has dropped significantly. Sure prefer this to a republican president who saw the stock market fall from over 10,000 to under 7000 and unemployment rise. I think Obama will go down as one of America’s better presidents. He had to face a tougher list of challenges than most presidents, thanks to G W Bush’s incompetency.

        • The national debt would have gone up a lot more if we had a republican president during the past 8 years. That is because republicans now believe deficits don’t matter. Look at the current republican candidate for president. He had a loss of close to a billion dollars. What are the republicans thinking? Obviously fiscal responsibility is no longer important to them. A pity.

        • O’bama is a spendthrift. If not for a republican majority congress, O’bama would have spend the US into oblivion.

  • I cannot add much to the critical review of the anointed one…a legend in his own mind. 🙂 Upon Obama’s election I had a bad feeling that he would fail. I “hoped” that I was wrong…unfortunately my hopes were left unanswered. I have that same feeling about HRC…another 4 years in the wings?

  • All of this happened because Obama is a weak President. Since Obama took office America and the world has declined into chaos. Obama has the blood of millions
    of people on his hands. Most certainly his legacy will be of a weak and incompetent president. Racial tension under the Obama administration was significantly
    increased. I wish that he would stop coming to Hawaii and embarrassing the state. It also costs the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide security to
    look after him, his family and his cronies.

  • Hillary Clinton called President Obama “incompetent and feckless” and charged that he had “no hand on the tiller half the time” during a boozy reunion with college pals, a new book claims.

    The scathing attacks came as the wine was flowing at a May 2013 dinner at Le Jardin Du Roi, a cozy French bistro near the Clinton family home in Westchester, according to “Blood Feud,” by best-selling author Edward Klein.

  • Obama being made to look like an absolute chump while Putin rolls into Ukraine and does what he wants in Syria. Clearly Obama is not respected by those who he needs to be respected by.

  • Many promises made by politicians and especially up coming presidents are never fulfill. Promises made without first hand knowledge of the global situations should not be made. First hand knowledge are most likely given at the time the candidate is elected and the whole global scenarios aren’t designs according to their visions or plans.

  • ex president jimmy carter won a noble peace prize for attacking are president at the time of war. that’s how you win the prize by hating our country. which they both do.

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