Obama: long road ahead

By: Haider Nizamani, Canada

AN athlete is never awarded a gold medal in the Olympics simply because he has declared that he would finish first in the race. Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama is akin to rewarding an athlete for his intentions.

Obama has to prove through his actions that the committee of Norwegian politicians who chose him for the 2009 Peace Prize weren’t terribly wrong in their judgment.

To this end he has some factors working in his favour. He enjoys an immensely positive image among US allies in Europe. The US image in Europe was battered by George W. Bush, who managed to thoroughly alienate America’s close allies from 2003 onwards. Obama usually says the right things at the right places. He chose Cairo in June to convey his goodwill message to the Muslim masses and launched the idea of a world free of nuclear weapons while addressing a huge public meeting in Prague in April. He is erudite and charmingly articulate. But these qualities would only be meaningful if they are augmented by concrete actions.Before pinning our hopes too high on Obama as the saviour of the world, let’s keep the following in mind as a reality check. First and foremost, he is the elected president of the world’s foremost military and economic power. But his is an executive position that is subject to multiple institutional powers and vested interests that can restrict his room to manoeuvre in global affairs.

The US commander-in-chief has two main institutions at his disposal while pursuing the peace agenda abroad. The Pentagon represents the defence establishment of a country that accounts for more than half of the world’s military spending. When a country with less than six per cent of the world’s population spends more than half the globe’s defence budget, it is no surprise that its commanders-in-chief often act like international bullies. It would take more than mere rhetoric to put the world’s largest war machine to peaceful uses.

The US State Department, headed by Hillary Clinton, is the civilian arm Obama would rely on to show us that he deservedly got the Peace Prize. When it comes to diplomacy it is always easy to convince friends of your noble intentions. The hard sell is to assure adversarial states and populations of your sincerity. Obama has done reasonably well to reach out to states and regimes that the Bush administration shunned.

As a result, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to address the UN this year he alluded to Obama as a “breath of fresh air” instead of smelling sulphur — a metaphor he used to refer to George Bush’s presence in the world body.

While acknowledging these achievements of the Obama brand of diplomacy we cannot overlook the uphill task the administration faces of winning the hearts and minds of people who have genuine grievances against US policies abroad. Topping the list would be the political imbroglio in the Middle East that shows no sign of easing as Obama continues to stand firmly behind Israel.

In terms of the constraints on Obama the foremost would be the US House of Representatives, which usually acts in unison when the president wants to wage a war, but acts in an utmost partisan manner when it comes to initiatives that would make the world a safer place. One example from recent history will be instructive. Lawmakers refused to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), frustrating former president Bill Clinton’s efforts as he became the treaty’s champion at home and abroad. The same legislators pretty much gave a carte blanche to the younger Bush in his disastrous ‘war against terror’ and the Iraq war.

With these constraints in mind we can still set tangible and realistic benchmarks to evaluate — at the end of the day — if Obama truly was the deserving candidate for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. If he can achieve the following three goals, I would not fault the Nobel committee for awarding him the prize prematurely in 2009.

First, Obama has pledged to work towards making the world free of nuclear weapons. This is a task that may be too tough to achieve in his lifetime, let alone during his presidency. But he can, and should, take the CTBT to the Senate for ratification. The coming into force of the CTBT is the first, necessary step in a long journey towards a world free of nuclear weapons. If Obama can convince US senators to ratify the CTBT it would put America in a position to explain the merits of the treaty to other dithering states like India and Pakistan.

Second, Obama needs to show effective leadership in prevailing over the US military establishment by becoming a party to the Ottawa Convention on banning the production and use of anti-personnel mines. Anti-personnel mines harm civilians long after conflicts have subsided. American opposition to the ban on anti-personnel mines makes it nearly impossible to work towards a universal regime prohibiting these horrendous weapons.

Third, he ought to lead the movement towards the banning of cluster bombs — which patently hurt innocent civilians more, especially unsuspecting minors, than combatants. Israel, a close ally of the US, has deployed these deadly bombs quite frequently.

I have avoided providing a laundry list of issues that Obama needs to resolve to justify his prize because he does not have a magic wand to turn this troubled planet into an abode of peace. What I have listed instead are verifiable actions he can take. The jury is out on whether he can deliver on the above points or not. If he does not then it would appear that the Norwegian lawmakers erred in their judgment and awarded the prize to Obama simply for his rhetoric.

hnizamani@hotmail.com

Courtesy: Daily Dawn, Thursday, 15 Oct, 2009

Source: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/obama-long-road-ahead-509

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