The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peace or Appeasement?

A Surprising Speech by a U.S. President

The White House has released a text copy of the remarks made by President Obama in Oslo today upon receiving his Nobel Peace Prize. I fear those who criticize him as a foreign policy apologist will find this speech equally unacceptable.

Obama begins with a few general principles that sound decidedly hands off in America’s approach to hostile nations.

“I believe the United States is at its best when adhering to a few clear precepts, governing its conduct in world affairs.

First – No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be an enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice. Second – No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations. Third – Every nation's right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable. Fourth – Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible. Fifth – A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.”

Obama next characteristically places blame for the current situation on the Bush Administration and all those with differing views from his own.

“Others held a vastly different vision of the future. In the world of their design, security was to be found, not in mutual trust and mutual aid but in force – huge armies, subversion, rule of neighbor nations. The goal was power superiority at all cost. Security was to be sought by denying it to all others.

The results when this alternative path was chosen have been tragic for the world.”

Obama paints a dire albeit clich├ęd situation, followed by holding out a chance for the world.

“This has been the way of life forged by years of fear and force. Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace. It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty. It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the hearts of all sane men – is there no other way the world may live?

None of the issues facing us, great or small, is insoluble – given only the will to respect the rights of all nations. The United States is ready to assume its just part. We have already done all within our power to speed conclusion of the war in Iraq, which will free that country from economic exploitation and from occupation by foreign troops. We are ready not only to press forward with the present plans for closer unity with our many allies but also, upon that foundation, to strive to foster a broader global community, conducive to the free movement of persons, of trade, and of ideas.”

To this end, Obama outlines five initiatives around the theme of nuclear disarmament, most of which surrender U.S. hegemony to international agreements and agencies.

“First – The limitation, by absolute numbers or by an agreed international ratio, of the sizes of the military and security forces of all nations. Second – A commitment by all nations to set an agreed limit upon that proportion of total production of certain strategic materials to be devoted to military purposes. Third – International control of nuclear energy to promote its use for peaceful purposes only and to insure the prohibition of all nuclear weapons. Fourth – A limitation or prohibition of other categories of weapons of mass destruction. Fifth – The enforcement of all these agreed limitations and prohibitions by adequate safeguards, including a practical system of inspection under the United Nations and other international agencies.”

In typical fashion, Obama is a little vague on the specifics of how to accomplish all this but concludes with an eloquent benediction of hope and change.

“The details of such disarmament programs are manifestly critical and complex. Neither the United States nor any other nation can properly claim to possess a perfect, immutable formula. But the formula matters less than the faith – the good faith without which no formula can work justly and effectively.

The peace we seek is founded upon decent trust and cooperative effort among nations. We are prepared to reaffirm, with the most concrete evidence, our readiness to help build a world in which all peoples can be productive and prosperous. The monuments to this peace would be roads and schools, hospitals and homes, food and health.

We are ready, in short, to dedicate our strength to serving the needs, rather than the fears, of the world. I know of nothing I can add to make plainer the sincere purposes of the United States. They conform to our firm faith that God intended humanity to enjoy, not destroy, the fruits of the Earth and of their own toil. They aspire to this – the lifting, from the backs and from the hearts of all people, of their burden of arms and of fears, so that they may find before them a golden age of freedom and of peace.”

Does Obama hit the ball out of the park with this speech or does he cross a forbidden line? Is this the logical global extension of modern U.S. liberalism, expressed by its foremost exponent, or the selling out of America by a brilliant but callow man unqualified to lead? How could any President of the United States stand before a public audience, with the entire world listening, and say such things?

As some history students among you already know, the excerpts above do not come from Obama’s Oslo acceptance speech. They are the words of a U.S. President but a Republican one – Dwight D. Eisenhower. I changed “Korea” to “Iraq” in what I presented above to maintain the illusion that the words were those of Obama. However, I quote the vast majority of the text, including the five precepts and five initiatives, almost verbatim.

Eisenhower’s speech was entitled “The Chance for Peace” and given on April 16, 1953 – a mere twelve weeks into his new Presidency. Eisenhower delivered it before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. However, the true intended audience for Eisenhower’s remarks was the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin had recently died and Eisenhower hoped the Kremlin’s new leadership would welcome an opportunity for a less hostile relationship with the United States.

In the speech, Eisenhower painted the Cold War and its accompanying arms race not merely as a moral outrage but an unsustainable economic burden to both countries. I first discovered this speech several years ago and was struck by its eloquence and persuasiveness. I tended to rank Eisenhower as a competent but somewhat stolid writer and speaker.

I also could not help but wonder if he had given it today, whether his fellow Republicans would have labeled Eisenhower a RINO?

To be sure, Eisenhower was not promoting dialogue merely for its own sake. At one point in the speech, he admonishes, “We care nothing for mere rhetoric. We care only for sincerity of peaceful purpose attested by deeds.”

Yet the fact remains that he proactively reached out, with no preconditions, to America’s fiercest enemy at that time – an enemy easily just as dangerous to our national security as the current threat of terrorism. He offered to respect their form of government and way of life in exchange for a cessation of hostility. He proposed mutual disarmament and placed great emphasis on multilateral international cooperation.

We know in hindsight that the Soviets rebuffed Eisenhower’s gallant offer. If they had not, the Cold War would have been a far less dangerous and stressful time for a generation of Americans. On the other hand, the Soviet Union might still be in existence today had the U.S. chosen Eisenhower’s vision of peaceful coexistence instead of competitive pressure.

Did Eisenhower later regret that the goals he outlined never saw fruition or did he regret he had ever made such an offer in the first place? Was his speech the product of a new President’s energy and optimism or an example of his naivety and inexperience in office? Was it a chance for peace or merely a chance for appeasement?

Whatever your evaluation, it seems Barack Obama is not the first U.S. President to have advocated such policies or found himself judged by them.

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