Hats off to Barack Obama

Having read Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize full acceptance speech, I have to say that he has turned what could have been an extremely embarrassing situation on its head.

When it was announced he had won the Peace Prize, seemingly because his surname wasn’t Bush, I was flabbergasted at the inappropriateness of the Nobel Prize committee’s decision. To date, he still has achieved very little as president of the USA, although his recent decision to increase the number of US troops after very careful deliberation of the situation is to be applauded.

As usual, the USA has to lead the way (closely followed by the UK) to drag the international community into action – even the NATO countries (who have a military obligation to stand shoulder to shoulder with their allies when one of their number is attacked), which, contrary to the view of an increasing section of public opinion (if the polls are accurate), is why we are in Afghanistan in the first place.

Obama wasn’t to blame for the decision to award him the Peace Prize, and he was clearly uncomfortable with the decision. He dedicated the start of his acceptance speech to emphasising the point that he is just at the start of the journey and there is a long way to go. He named previous ‘genuine’ recipients and then eluded to the fact that there are many more around the world who have suffered for their beliefs who are far more deserving.

Good start.

He then (and this is where things got really interesting) argued the case for a ‘just war’ and presented a clear and concise argument against pacifism and inaction without recourse to insulting those with such genuine moral convictions.

“A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms… the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice.”

Whilst there was a general undercurrent of endorsement of the UN, and an attempt to rebuild US-UN relations, there was a veiled ‘kick up the backside’ to the international community, and a reminder that sometimes action is required. Whilst the UN has often failed to do the dirty work, Obama reminded everyone that

“…the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms… We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest”

So, overall an excellent speech – very well written, considered, and balanced. If you haven’t done so already, I recommend that your read it. It gives a good insight into Obama’s views and, whilst his foreign policy will not vary wildly in substance from that of his predecessor, his diplomatic skills are certainly a little more subtle.

He should not have been awarded the peace prize based on his intentions, but then he probably wouldn’t have had the chance to make this speech.

In any case, I’m looking forward to receiving the Academy Award for that really good film I intend to make at some point in the future.

Obama takes office

Barack Obama has taken office as the 44th president of the United States. He has brought to an end the Bush era and many people around the world will be celebrating not only the election of the first ‘African American’ President, but also the demise of George Bush. Recently, I even saw a flyer advertising a party in Birmingham (UK), which is being held to celebrate the end of George Bush’s presidency.

I too am excited by the prospect of an Obama presidency and the affect this will have on not only the United States, but the world at large. He comes across as a personable, affable, eloquent, and sincere man and I very much hope he can help to heal the world.

At the same time, I am a realist. As a work colleague put it, today at 17:00 GMT was when the ‘rainbows came out and the pixies danced’. Many are placing a lot of faith in Obama’s ability to change the nature of pretty much everything. It reminds me of the hot summer of 1997 when Tony Blair and the Labour Party took power in the UK and there was a feeling of complete elation everywhere. Then reality bit.

Obama, by his own admission, is not some kind of panacea. He will meet a great deal of obstacles throughout his term(s) in office. If the hardcore anti-Bush brigade expect big changes in foreign policy, I’m afraid that they’re being just a little naive. Obama’s big impact will, I suspect, be in US domestic policy.

I must admit, I did have a little wry smile on my face as the first words Obama spoke as he swore in were fluffed (having read the oath, it was Rick Warren’s mistake and not Obama’s) and he seemed to hesitate. Not the best start, but Obama dealt with it well. Let’s see if the satirists make anything out of that little episode – they would have lapped it up if it had been Bush.

In any case, it is great to see the investiture of the first black American president. It looks like the most powerful nation on Earth has indeed moved on a great deal from the dark days of segregation. I sincerely hope that Obama can live up to the expectations. By his investiture, he has already exceeded the hopes and dreams of a generation of people brought up under segregation. Martin Luther King’s dream has finally been realised.