Reasoning Behind Obama's Peace Prize
Okay, I’ll admit that when I first saw on the Internet that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize, I checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally gone to The Onion’s satirical news site. But the more I think about it – and the more I hear the snickering from Official Washington – the more I appreciate what the prize committee did.
Last year, Barack Obama did something extraordinary for the cause of world peace. He built a campaign that wrested control of the U.S. government from a gang of duplicitous warmongers.
Considering the unprecedented military might of the United States, that was no small achievement.
And Obama did it despite a U.S. news media that remains dominated by the gang’s fellow travelers, not only at Fox News and on right-wing talk radio, but at prestige news outlets like the Washington Post.
Obviously, Obama didn’t do it singlehandedly. He had the help of a talented staff and an army of young people who wanted a very different future for their country. But it was Obama who recruited the staff and gave focus to the campaign with brilliant oratory and calm leadership.
It’s become trendy across the political spectrum to attack Obama for perceived failures, not only on the Right but on the Left, where he is denounced for not doing enough. He’s faulted for faltering on his pledge to close the Guantanamo prison, failing to reverse all of George W. Bush’s imperial overreach, adding troops to Afghanistan and considering a second escalation.
How, some on the Left have argued, could the Nobel Peace Prize committee give the award to Obama when he hasn’t ended either of his inherited wars, in Iraq or Afghanistan? Nor, these critics say, has Obama made much progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks or in engaging Iran in serious negotiations.
But it sometimes makes sense to view a political leader not through the lens of perfection but through the prism of what the likely alternatives were. Of the leading contenders for the presidency, Obama was clearly the most dovish when compared with his two principal rivals, neocon Republican John McCain and hawkish Democrat Hillary Clinton.
McCain was a key architect and promoter of Bush’s disastrous war policies. He had lusted after war with Iraq and advocated the premature pivot from Afghanistan to Iraq. Now, after nearly eight years of neglecting Afghanistan, McCain is pushing for a major military escalation there.
Clinton was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War and remained so until it became clear that her position was undermining her ambitions for the Democratic nomination. She also favored Israel’s hard line on Iran, mocking Obama as naïve to favor unconditional negotiations. Now, as secretary of state, she is reportedly backing the idea of an Afghan escalation.
Does anyone on the Left seriously believe that a President John McCain or a President Hillary Clinton would have promoted peace as much as Obama has?
And when it comes to a country as powerful as the United States, gradations matter; they can be the difference between untold numbers of people living or dying, as Election 2000 should have made clear, when some on the Left said there was "not a dime's worth of difference" between Bush and Al Gore.
Granted, this lesser-evil argument should not spare Obama from criticism when he falls short on his promises about seeking more peaceful solutions to international problems, restoring the rule of law or reducing government secrecy. At Consortiumnews.com, we have published many stories about Obama compromising too much and protecting too many Bush-era secrets.
But I also sympathize with Michael Moore’s criticism of an American Left that has settled back into its collective armchair content with criticizing Obama rather than staying engaged in the fight. In recent TV interviews, Moore has puzzled over why Obama always seems to be standing alone against the daunting powers arrayed against him and his reformist agenda.
Over the past three decades, I have similarly shaken my head over the Left’s stubborn resistance to calls for building an infrastructure of honest and rational media, a framework for supporting decent politicians and implementing reasonable policies. Instead, the Left has followed the slogan, “think globally, act locally,” and found little reason for supporting media.
Yet, at each turn in the downward national spiral, I would think that now the Left will “get it,” will grasp the necessity to invest in media – from the Reagan-era demonizing of the word “liberal,” to the failure to explain the Iran-Contra scandal, to the ugly campaign that George H.W. Bush waged against Michael Dukakis, to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against Bill Clinton, to George W. Bush’s stolen election of 2000, to the Iraq War lies, to the swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004, to the economic crisis unleashed by the deregulation of Wall Street, to the ugly conspiracy theories about Obama.
But the Left never seems to “get it,” at least not sufficiently or with enough urgency.
When right-wing-propagandist-turned-liberal-media-activist David Brock named his organization “Media Matters for America,” one have might responded, “Duh! Of course, media matters.” But except for some bush tribes in Borneo, the American Left may be the only group in the world that acts as if media doesn’t matter.
I’ve received messages from Americans on the Left who say they look to English-language Al Jazeera, the Arab news network, as one of their key news sources. While that’s a compliment to the quality of Al Jazeera’s news content, it is a remarkable commentary on the absence of any similarly well-funded news organization reflecting the attitudes and priorities of American liberals.
At this advanced moment in the American crisis, the best media presence for the American Left may be on General Electric's MSNBC with it experimental evening lineup of Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz.
But GE didn’t settle on this lineup because it had suddenly gone liberal. (Indeed, its business network, CNBC, remains staffed with staunch free-marketeers who refuse to acknowledge that their anti-regulatory theories contributed to last year’s financial collapse.)
No, GE only turned to a liberal evening lineup on MSNBC because all other combinations had failed, including trying to out-fox Fox with flag-waving, super-patriotic coverage of the Iraq War in 2003. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Matrix.”]
So, it’s remarkable that even at this late date – as Obama’s presidency faces fierce challenges and Republicans are licking their lips about the prospect of retaking Congress in 2010 – the American Left won’t invest seriously in media outlets and content.
At different points in the 14-year history of Consortiumnews.com, I’ve been approached by liberal funders with assurances that finally wealthy liberals “get it” and are ready to open their checkbooks to support honest journalism. But each time, something comes up, some excuse, some other priority.
For instance, in 2004, I was urged by a small group of liberal financiers to quit my editing job at Bloomberg News and resume Consortiumnews.com as a full-time news operation. I was told that plenty of money would be available.
Though I believed their sincerity, I doubted they understood the mindset of the American Left, the almost dogmatic resistance to building media, a recognition reflected in the lecturing tone of Brock’s name choice, “Media Matters.”
As it turned out, I did leave Bloomberg News and did expand Consortiumnews.com into a daily outlet for investigative news stories and journalistic essays. But I was right about the group’s inability to achieve what was promised. The money never materialized.
It is in that context of the Left’s neglect to build a messaging machine that Obama’s actions must be evaluated. As Michael Moore fretted, why does the President always seem to be standing out there alone?
Why, I would add, does the American Left expect individuals – whether politicians or mainstream journalists – to charge into withering enemy fire to do the right thing, but without much artillery support nor much hope of survival?
Heroism can be admirable but it also can be foolhardy, especially on a personal level.
I have often cited the tragic case of San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, who took on a tough story (CIA tolerance of Nicaraguan contra drug trafficking) and lost his career, livelihood and family as a result, finally ending his life in suicide. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “We All Failed Gary Webb.”]
In my view, there was no justifiable reason in a country as rich as the United States for Gary Webb (or others who take risks to do the right thing) to be ruined. Certainly, on the American Right, “journalists” who invent lies and spread propaganda are assured a comfortable career. [See, for instance, David Brock’s Blinded by the Right.]
That disparity – a huge and well-funded media infrastructure on the Right versus a motley collection of poorly funded media entities on the Left – explains a lot about why the United States has veered so far off course. The media imbalance has forced many well-meaning politicians and journalists to tilt their behavior to the Right simply for personal survival. [For more on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Left’s Media Miscalculation.”]
So, maybe what the Nobel Peace Prize committee was trying to do was to get Obama’s back so the President could feel a bit safer in charting a new, less warlike course for the United States, no small feat for the American people and the rest of the world.
The prize committee may have noticed, too, that the American Left wasn’t doing much to help.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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