SO THOSE those right-wing ideologues have their noses out of joint because they do not think that Barack Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. But imagine how far further their noses would be out of joint if he actually did the things that would make him truly worth it.
So far he has said a few conciliatory things to the Muslim world. He has promised a few things on international co-operation and human rights (like closing Guantanamo Bay). And, of course, he has not done a few things that his predecessor might well have done (like attack Iran or North Korea). Does that warrant a Nobel Prize? It’s a moot point.
Will the prize make Obama work harder for peace? Let’s hope so. What has he got to do and what is he up against?
Essentially he has to steer America back to the ideals of the American Revolution. He has to end the hypocrisy of US leaders talking about freedom and democracy and doing the opposite.
He has to undo the imperialism of George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and (to a lesser extent) Bill Clinton.
It is not merely withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. They are just examples of a more difficult impediment to world peace – a growing imperial military culture in the US that is undermining all the things that most people admire about America: democracy, the rule of law, checks and balances, liberty, free enterprise and generosity.
Iraq and Afghanistan aside, the US has troops in more than 150 nations, and I am not talking embassy guards and a few military attaches. It has full-scale bases in more than 60 countries, adding seven since 11 September 2001.
This is not an expression of peace and goodwill. Rather it is an expression of a readiness to use force. And to use force not to promote democracy or liberty, but to guard economic interests. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has sat idly by while many tinpot dictators in Third World hell-holes pillage and murder their people, and only taken action when the dictator is sitting on a lot of oil or controls territory that might provide an oil pipeline.
Quite a few of these bases, moreover, are in countries that are ruled by medieval dictators in the Persian Gulf or by former communist strongmen in Central Asia. The bases, indeed, help prop up these dictators. Others are in places where the native population has been displaced (Diego Garcia) or where the local population bitterly resents the base’s presence (Okinawa).
Why does Nobel Peace Laureate Obama feel it necessary for his country to have 250,000 soldiers and an equal number of dependants occupying bases totaling more than 12 million hectares in more than 150 countries throughout the world?
They do not help the counties they are in and the US could do without them. The Philippines, for example, is arguable more democratic since the US bases were closed and the US is no worse off without them.
The next question to ask our Nobel Laureate is why must the nation he leads spend so much on the military? I will not use the word “defence” because it is absurd in this context. The raw US Department of Defence Budget is $US650 billion. When you add non-DOD military spending, like intelligence, nuclear weapons research, counter-terrorism security and the like, it goes to nearly $1,000 billion.
It is almost as much as the combined spending of every other nation on earth. It is nine times what China spends. It takes more than a third of the US Budget.
This is militarism and imperialism, not peace and democracy.
The tragedy of this military spending is that it prevents spending on other things that a Nobel Peace Laureate should find more worthwhile – a health insurance scheme for his own people, development aid and dozens of things which make people more secure, not less secure like the military spending.
The US is the largest exporter of military hardware in the world at $20 billion in 2007 – about a third of the world’s total. It also spends a large amount in military aid.
The most military sales go to that well-known bastion of Middle East liberty and democracy, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supplies more oil to the US than any other country.
Saudi Arabia is followed by Taiwan and Israel (almost equal second).
A Nobel Peace Laureate should do more for the dispossessed Palestinians. Indeed, the US’s military assistance to Israel is perhaps the root cause of so much friction in the world. As long as the US continues to side with Israel, Israel has no incentive to reach peace with the Palestinians.
Finally, a nation led by a Nobel Peace Laureate should do something about trade policy and the World Trade Organisation. The big “free trade” deals were the legacy of the Clinton administration. Free trade under the WTO is an arrangement whereby rich countries can subsidise their agricultural produce as much as they like and shut Third World countries out of developed world markets and the same time enforce intellectual property rights in things like genetically modified crops and pharmaceuticals in Third World countries.
A Nobel Peace Laureate would do something about this imbalance.
If Obama could resist the Pentagon and Members of Congress who are dependant on donations from military suppliers and pharmaceutical companies (and the presence of their factories in their constituencies), he could achieve these things. But that has not been the normal pattern for US Presidents. Usually they get quickly sucked in by the military and industrial heavies.
If the Nobel Peace Prize makes it less likely for this President to be sucked in so much the better. If he could achieve these things, who knows he could become the first person to get the Nobel Peace Prize with bar.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times on 17 October 2009