Friday, December 11, 2009

Myth: Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and his diplomacy with Iran and the Arabs, show that he won the prize for appeasement. Nonsense!

President Obama’s speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10th in Oslo, “A Just and Lasting Peace,”[1] has prompted a new wave of smear emails, blog posts and TV punditry claiming that Obama won the prize for a “policy of abject capitulation to our enemies” (Erick Erickson, Wayne Simmons), weakening and neutering the U.S. (Rush Limbaugh, Barry Rubin). “Obama is reaching out his open hand to the Islamic radicals in disregard of how many times they slap it away,” charges Simmons. “Today, Barack Obama, giving a pallid imitation of a President, has chosen to appease our enemies around the world in his misguided effort to mollify those that would kill us.”[2]

Charles Krauthammer mocks Obama’s belief in diplomacy with Iran combined with sanctions as based on “nonsense,” while John Bolton panned Obama’s speech as “filled with misconceptions about everything from human nature to the US role in the world.” Barry Rubin says that “Obama sounded like a Winston Churchill impersonator reading a speech written by Neville Chamberlain....In Afghanistan as with almost every other international issue, the Obama Administration takes pride in being weak, refusing to face up to confrontations, rejecting pressure, always seeing the other (enemy) guy’s point of view, and seeking consensus as the highest priority. This Administration doesn’t understand the use of threats, leverage, credibility, and deterrence in international relations. It has only one gear in its policy: be nice and hope the other side will reciprocate.”

Now, as when the Nobel award was announced, Obama’s critics have accused him of following a Chamberlain-like “pacifist agenda” by engaging in Middle East diplomacy (Dennis Prager and the Republican Jewish Coalition).
[4] “Perhaps they should change the award's name to the Neville rather than the Nobel,” the critics sneer, implying that all negotiations are like Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, and all countries in conflict with the US or Israel are like Nazi Germany, requiring the same response: preventive war.

But a reality check shows that it’s Obama’s critics who are spinning fictions, recklessly substituting dogma for facts.

1. In fact, negotiating with repressive governments has often enhanced U.S. and Israeli national security. Engagement with “rogue” regimes has been used effectively by American presidents, Republican and Democrat. As Obama explained in his Nobel acceptance speech:

“In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable -- and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There's no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

What’s more, the Clinton administration brokered peace accords in Northern Ireland, where one side, the IRA and Sinn Fein, had supported or engaged in terrorism against Britain, and in Bosnia, where Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic led a genocidal regime. The Bush administration successfully arranged the elimination of Libya’s weapons of mass destruction.

With President Carter’s help, Israel negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, the largest Arab country, ending a cycle of multi-front Arab-Israeli wars which had plagued the Jewish state during its first 25 years. The Egyptian-Israeli treaty has saved thousands of Israeli, and Arab, lives, freeing the Israel Defense Forces to focus its resources on defending Israel from other threats. Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan has bolstered its security on its long eastern frontier. Israeli Military Intelligence and the IDF top brass support peace talks with Syria,[5] and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican originally appointed by Bush, has long favored direct U.S. talks with Iran combined with sanctions.

Negotiating with Iran: At the same time, Iran's leadership may be too fractured by internal power struggles at this point to conclude a negotiated deal on the nuclear issue. Ahmadinejad is reported to have favored the Geneva deal proposed by the U.S. and other major powers which would send most of Iran's low-enriched uranium to Russia, and then France, where it would be converted into fuel rods to power an Iranian medical reactor. This would buy the international community about a year during which Iran would no longer have enough nuclear fuel to make a nuclear weapon, allowing time to work out a broader agreement putting in place a robust regime of intrusive inspections, monitoring and safeguards to prevent Iran from weaponizing its low-enriched uranium in future. But Ahmadinejad's political enemies within the regime opposed the deal, eager to undermine his credibility and legitimacy.

This is "the first time that real power brokers [in Iran] are divided, and that is something Obama has achieved with the Geneva deal much more so than street protests..." noted one Washington-based Iran expert speaking to the New York Times. For now, negotiations may serve to better unite the international community around new sanctions against Iran - by showing that the US and its partners have, unlike Bush, genuinely pursued diplomatic talks - and help to exacerbate divisions within the Iranian regime. But the talks are also laying the basis for a future agreement which could ultimately bring about detente with Iran, significantly reducing its potential to threaten Israel's security and that of our Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. (Michael Slackman, "Hard-Line Rise in Iran Alters View of Nuclear Ambition," The New York Times, Dec. 25, 2009)

2. Myth: Sanctions can stop Iran's nuclear weapons program without negotiations; sanctions without diplomacy worked with Rhodesia. (Charles Krauthammer)

Fact: Krauthammer attacks Obama’s Mideast diplomacy with outright falsehoods: Requesting comment from Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, Fox TV News played a segment of Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech defending the need for combining diplomacy with sanctions in dealing with countries like Iran:

"The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.”

Krauthammer responded[6]:

“The premise here, the idea that sanctions without engagement is useless, that’s nonsense. We had sanctions against Rhodesia in the 70's. There was no engagement and it worked. The Rhodesians in the end gave up. Obama's trying to explain why he's pursuing sanctions on Iran but he's got this open hand, these negotiations which are endless in which he's being played for the fool by the Iranians. They have rejected one offer after another. So he's trying to explain it away.”

But Krauthammer's claim that sanctions worked without engagement against Rhodesia is a gross distortion. In fact, the white minority Rhodesian government surrendered power because it also faced military defeat in the “Bush war” waged by the Zimbabwe African National Union. Krauthammer neglects to tell us that it took war combined with diplomatic isolation and sanctions which brought Rhodesia to the point of economic collapse. Is this what Krauthammer really proposes for the US, Israel and international community in dealing with Iran: sanctions, which are unlikely to be as effective against Iran as they were against Rhodesia, and a preventive war against Iran?

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3. Pursuing direct talks with potential adversaries as a first resort isn’t pacifism, as Prager charges. Pacifism is opposition to war under all circumstances. Obama is no pacifist; he has always recognized that military force is sometimes necessary and just. “In his 2002 speech opposing an invasion of Iraq he emphasized that he was only against ‘dumb war.’”[7] He has backed Israel’s right to retaliate against rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon and Gaza. But unlike many of his bellicose critics, who fervently believe that the most aggressive military response is always the right answer, Obama holds that military force should be used selectively, smartly and judiciously – and only when morally justified as “a last resort or in self-defense, when the force used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”

4. William Kristol goes so far as to suggest that Obama’s defense in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech of just war – that force under certain circumstances is necessary and morally justified, against Nazism and now Al Qaeda – is tantamount to embracing the “conservative” belief in the primacy of war in foreign relations, including Bush’s doctrine of preventive war, as in the US attack on Iraq.[8] Now that’s really nonsense: preventive wars of choice like Iraq are not just, and Obama has always rejected them. The notion that some wars are necessary and right isn’t conservatism; it’s a philosophy enshrined in international law and in Jewish, Christian and Islamic moral traditions.

5. Who’s naïve about evil? Dennis Prager mocks the left and the Europeans as “naïve about evil” because they believe that “dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts,” as the Nobel Committee put it in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. Prager calls this a “pacifist agenda,” the dogma that “War is not the answer.”

Time for a reality check. In fact, it’s the neoconservative right that has consistently blundered in responding to the threats facing America and our allies. They subscribe to the reckless notion that once we recognize a regime as tyrannical, we automatically know what our response must be – sanctions and isolation, then war and regime change, avoiding all diplomatic efforts to modify its behavior. They would embroil the U.S. and Israel in endless war. Americans now widely recognize that the Iraq war was a strategic blunder which strengthened Iran, trading Saddam, Iran’s main adversary, for a pro-Iranian Shiite regime. The American invasion and occupation of Iraq were a gift to Al Qaeda, helping to “spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism” and worsening the global terrorist threat, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.[9]

Hitler and Nazi Germany are irrelevant to many of the security challenges Israel and U.S. face today. The world isn’t stuck in 1933, in an endless loop.

President Obama’s commitment to engagement has given Americans and people the world over new hope for a more peaceful and secure world.[10] In presenting the award to Obama yesterday, “Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland argued that Obama has already changed the temperature in the international climate since he was sworn in in January, simply by insisting on negotiations and diplomacy first. The committee didn't want to wait to voice its support for Obama's ideals, Jagland said, suggesting the award will help the president achieve his goals. ‘It is now, today, [that] we have the opportunity to support President Obama's ideas,’ said Jagland. ‘This year's prize is a call to action for all of us.’”[11]

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[1]"Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize," Oslo, December 10, 2009
[2]Wayne Simmons, “Cheerleader in Chief,” Human Events, December 10, 2009
[3]Barry Rubin, “Let’s Get Real: Obama’s Foreign Policy is Failing; Time to Wake Up, Change Course, and Do It Right,” The Rubin Report, December 10, 2009
[4]Republican Jewish Coalition email, October 15, 2009, Dennis Prager, “Why President Obama Was Awarded the Nobel Prize,”, October 13, 2009
[5]"Head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Research Division supports Obama’s approach to Syria," ObamaSmearBusters
[6]“Happening Now,” John Scott, anchor, Fox TV News, December 10, 2009
[7]Michael Powell, “Tracing the Disparate Threads In Obama's Political Philosophy,” The New York Times, August 25, 2008
[8]William Kristol, “Plus ca change,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2009
[9]Mark Mazzetti, “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” The New York Times, September 24, 2006
[10]“The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 Press Release,” October 9, 2009; “Building a World that Gives Life to the Promise of Our Founding Documents,”, October 9, 2009
[11]Christi Parsons, “Obama accepts Nobel Peace Prize as he defends the need for war,” The Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2009