“The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace…”

President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace today. As he acknowledged at the start of his address, the seeming contradiction of a wartime President receiving a distinction such as this was on the minds of many in the world.

His address was an eloquent rationalization for war. I don’t know any other way to say it. To many, undoubtedly, it made sense. To many more–most of those in the world who suffer under the effects of war–it would seem gross and incomprehensible for him to say what he did say.

While you can easily access the full-text of the speech at the White House, let me share with you the heart of his rationalization, and the critical center of his thinking I find so unsatisfactory:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that 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 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’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — 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 nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

What we must begin to consider is that “peace” is not merely the absence of war. While my concerns as a scholar are far more focused on what this means for everyday people living life on this planet–the freedom to be free from starvation as well as other forms of cultural, spiritual, political, and physical violence–it is equally true for the realm of big government diplomacy.

No, a “nonviolent movement” would not have halted Hitler’s armies in 1939. But a truly peaceful form of national and international diplomacy would have never allowed such a condition to materialize in the first place. If we live in a world where inequalities and inequities are not only allowed to exist but are indifferently and passively fostered and condoned, then we live in a world that will continue to see the worst in our species rise up.

Peace is not simple. Peace is not singular. But make no mistake about it: peace is both possible, realistic, and urgently needed.

Liz Cheney is, sadly, no “farce”

Liz Cheney–spawn of Dick–shared her views on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize on, of course, FOX News.

She labeled Obama’s award as a “farce,” not because he is a wartime president but because the Nobel Committee wants us all “to live in the world where the US is not dominant.” She said Obama should refuse to attend the award ceremony and instead send the mother of a soldier who died in combat, to stress the importance of war.

After all, each member of the Nobel Committee “sleeps soundly at night because the U.S. military is the greatest peacekeeping force in the world today.”

You can read and watch more of her rantings and warmonggering spew here.

It would be easy for me to dismiss Cheney as “evil” since, well, I’m pretty sure she is. But she is nothing magical, nothing all that unique. She is morally bankrupt, serious and dedicated to fomenting a form of political fascism steeped in nationalistic fervor. She advocates for a world of desperation, of the starvation of rights and humanity, all in the name of pride and profit and a narrow vision of who is deserving.

She is a visceral reminder of the national and global context in which Obama won this distinction.

Obama’s Nobel Win is not Global Affirmative Action

When I first heard Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize I reacted with a fair amount of surprise. And then terror.

While I have only been a lukewarm supporter of the President’s initial period in office–less than impressed with his commitment to corporate welfare, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and avoidance of issues confronting immigrant and LGBT equality–I am an avid ally of him as a fellow person of color.

I can appreciate the difficulty of a fairly progressive-minded, person of color has when they occupy the most powerful political seat in this nation.  We are a nation that has refused in bold and multiple ways to confront its white supremacist past, and the powerfully lingering ways that past structures our present.  The social and cultural baggage of more than two centuries of this great failure is lifted and carried by all those who choose to bear its load, and all people of color whether or not they so choose.  Barack Obama, in many ways, carries a share beyond measure.

So when I heard he had won, the second thing that came to my mind was that this would be used by his opponents.  When I opened up my news app to read about the award, one of the first voices I read was Republican chairman Michael Steele’s who asked “What has President Obama actually accomplished?” Most early coverage grappled with this question, baffled by the President’s distinction coming at a time when he officiates over two wars and struggles on the domestic front to secure his and his party’s agenda.  What I knew would be coming were even more racially-infused analyses, ones putting his award into question as they imply he was nothing more than a recipient of global affirmative action.

While I, too, was surprised that Obama won the award, it is not an unjustified recognition.

The U.S. has a difficult time thinking beyond its borders, and making sense of this award is nearly all about that.  The Nobel Committee bestowed this distinction not for his domestic struggles but for his leadership on the global stage.  While we are stuck in the health care and immigration debates–both of which DO relate to hemispheric peace–our President has also been acting for peace in the global arena.  Whether in his support of a nuclear free world, or for meaningful efforts to check global warming, Obama has been active in progressive ways beyond our borders.

Of course, he has already begun accumulating a list of omissions on that same stage, issues and conflicts to which he and his administration have been all too silent, or vocal in less than productive ways.  But the award is not a litmus test of issues as much as it is a process of possibility.

And here is where race may be involved.  There is a powerful element to his international distinction that comes with his race.  It is not just because he is black, but this distinction does come from the ways he is connected to his blackness.  That might seem confusing, but it’s really not.  Barack Obama has made himself a national and international voice for those who do not have one.  In his consistent rhetoric (and in measured ways beyond) he has shown that the issues confronting the poor and the marginalized are significant and worthy of deliberation at the highest of political levels.  Perhaps more important is the sense of moral imperative he gives to these issues.  This is, I think, a significant component to the way he is regarded on the world stage.  As a black man who advocates for the issues confronting the “global South”–the masses of poor and hungry being victimized by war and other government machinations–who are both nonwhite and the majority of this globe, Obama has become a force of good and, potentially, much more good for the world.

Obama is, in global terms, an authentic voice for the world’s oppressed.  Some of this comes from nothing other than being who he is.  But all of it comes from his unwillingness to forget and depart from who he is.

The most significant thing he has done this year that has received less than the attention it deserved was his trip to the African continent.  That this was under the radar on the US domestic scene has probably as much to do with the Obama White House than anything else.  Timed to be part of a weekend, when press coverage is low, his administration might have feared the radical white backlash that would rather predictably come with a the nation’s first black President traveling to Africa.  The escalation of the “birthers” and the mainstreaming of their message didn’t help.

But it was a powerful weekend.  I still don’t think we, as a nation, have a firm grasp of the awesomely tragic ways European imperialism and slavery transformed the world.  I am quite certain we don’t appreciate the ways most of the global South continues to feel their affects.  While we think of these as things that have passed, they have no such luxury.  For those reasons, I am also quite certain few of us could appreciate the significance of a nonwhite person, in his capacity as the de facto head of the First World, symbolically “returning” to the Third World.  I don’t think we can fully appreciate the inherent possibility for change that brings with it.

Today, I think the Nobel selection committee did.