Friday, October 9, 2009

The New Barbarians (II) (EN)

So why is Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize?
Most people I talked to are perplexed. Surely he hasn't done anything truly great so far, except maybe being the first non-white to win US presidential elections... but this is hardly a reason for being awarded the Nobel.

I have a different explanation, which starts eight years ago.

Even before 9/11, largely for explicitly stated ideological reasons, the Bush jr Administration had begun to systematically undermine existing international institutions by going unilateral or refusing to cooperate on such things as climate change, ballistic missiles, the International Criminal Court. American exceptionalism was not new, but seldom in history had it manifested itself in a such systematic way. After the traumatic terror attacks, the unilateralist camp gained virtually complete control in shaping America's foreign policy. It coined the so-called "Bush doctrine" that promotes the idea of preemptive war. And it put it at work in 2003 by launching a war against Irak based on (as we now know) false allegations of Saddam developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and supporting Al-Qaeda, and outside international law as it failed to obtain the approval of the United Nations.
The US, clearly, was no longer willing to act with self-restraint within the existing international system, and was more than ready to flout existing norms and institutions whenever it so appeared more expedient to defend (what it considered to be) its national interests.
This type of behavior is what I described as neo-barbarian in an earlier post. Most of the world reacted with fear and horror to such vandalism, sympathy for the US dropped sharply and suddenly it started to top public opinion polls about countries that are a threat to world peace.

Incidentally, another consequence of such foreign policy was to dramatically undermine America's soft power and influence in the world. From being mostly perceived as a relatively benign superpower that largely controls the international system and has an important stake in its preservation and consolidation (remember Bush senior's talk about the "New World Order" and the very different way in which the first Irak war was conducted in 1991 within a UN-sanctioned framework), the US started to behave recklessly in pursuit of narrowly-defined national interests with no concern for the damage done to the international institutions. Ironically, all that the world superpower needed to do was to translate its national interest into the language of universal principles that others could understand and follow - but the New Barbarians were intent on precisely not doing that.
Acting like a bully, outside the rules, even when you are the strongest country in the world, has some long term costs. It makes your behavior less predictable; it makes it easier for adversaries to oppose you and justify their opposition through principles (as France opposed the Irak war, with president Chirac managing a significant surge in his moribund popularity); and it makes it more costly for your allies to follow you and be able to justify such support in front of their own public opinion (as illustrated by the severe political damage that Britain's Tony Blair and Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, who supported Bush in Irak, suffered domestically). Eventually, you end up with fewer friends and less influence.
And the world becomes a more insecure place.

Obama's promise is to bring America back into the international system. And this promise was received enthusiastically by the world, because it announces better times when the most powerful man on the planet and the most powerful country on earth will act within a system, within some limits, within the realm of civilization as opposed to barbarity.
By the mere fact of changing the direction of US foreign policy and adopting a cooperative attitude with the rest of the world, Obama has been effectively contributing to restoring the enfeebled world order. Not surprisingly, America is once again popular.
And the Nobel Committee says it explicitly in its brief justification:

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.

Now I agree that awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize is maybe too much at this point. But this is not about Obama. It's about a world that has suffered mightily under the New Barbarians and now gives a sigh of relief. And has high hopes from its new leader.


  1. adica: "merita" premiul asta fiindca este un anti-neo-barbar care a creat mondialmente o "clima" anti-neo-barbara? --- din pacate, intre un merit climatic si un merit obiectiv exista o grav-rationala diferenta de realitate, diferenta care poate fi suplinita doar printr-o sublim-populara speranta de idealitate; asa se face ca obama isi merita premiul doar pentru ca se spera sa si-l merite; totusi, dupa parerea mea, cine si-l merita in mod justificat, sint obamistii plini de speranta anti-neo-barbara...

  2. @g:
    Sunt magulit de sugestia ca as merita Nobelul pentru Pace, chiar impartit cu milioane de alti "obamisti plini de speranta".
    Dar ceea ce spun eu in fond nu este foarte diferit: da, nu exista (deocamdata!) merite "obiective" pentru care Obama sa primeasca Premiul. El nu a facut decat sa schimbe - rapid si radical - perceptiile si asteptarile lumii. Cu o mentiune importanta: in relatiile internationale, perceptiile si asteptarile sunt o parte importanta a realitatii.

  3. lucrurile sînt si extrem de simple, si estrem de complicate: simple pentru ca, de fapt, pe orice revista de presa internatonala te-ai uita, ce zici tu ca zicem amindoi, zice toata lumea, ba chiar obama insusi; complicate, fiindca aici e vorba de o perceptie idealista asupra timpului valorat politic (la urma urmei valorat religios, adica mesianic), fiind vorba de speranta, mai precis, de incredere intr-o fagaduinta, in cazul de fata, pecetluita cu bani (nu stiu citi face premul asta, insa, desigur, destui incit sa faci infart daca i-ai cistiga la loterie!) ---drept pentru care: in caz ca fie lui obama, fi vreunui consilier de-al lui le-ar veni ideea sa-i doneze acum (subliniat "acum"!) cui cel mai mult i-ar fi de folos, spre exemplu, unor negri care mor de foame pe aici prin africa, atunci da, as fi cit se poate de convins ca totul este in regula, cu alte cuvinte, ca a spera in cel care-ti cere sa speri, nu in mod necesar ar fi sa fie si ceva suspect --- --- legat de "rapid si radical": perceptiile si asteptarile lumii (nu stiu cit procentaj de pluralitate atribui tu a ceea ce numesti prin lume) le poate schimba oricine: istoria e plina de scamatori care, fiindca scot azi iepurele din palarie, dau speranta lumii ca vor scoate miine un elefant... din aceeasi palarie, bineinteles! --- --- in fine, totul e prea gingas ca sa nu fie prea de tot...

  4. @g:
    Doar un raspuns punctual deocamdata. Suma de bani care insoteste Premiul Nobel nu e atat de enorma precum pari sa crezi, in nici un caz nu e una "de infarct"; e vorba cam de 1.4 milioane dolari SUA (spre comparatie, pentru campania prezidentiala Obama a mobilizat aproape 750 de milioane). Cat despre donarea banilor catre organizatii de caritate, anuntul a fost facut intr-adevar imediat dupa aflarea vestii. Dar astea sunt chestiuni secundare, daca as fi in locul tau nici pe departe nu ar fi suficiente sa ma convinga ca "totul este in regula".
    Celelalte chestiuni cer un raspuns mai elaborat, am sa incerc sa-l dau in postarile viitoare.

  5. doar o obiectie punctuala: 1.4 minioane dolari SUA de buzunar... nu mobilizati... --- cit despre restul: ma refeream la o incomoditate morala pe care o poti rezolva atit de simplu precum ziceam... cui au fost donati banii?


    omul are dreptate...

  7. @ jocker12

    Merci pentru link, nu vazusem articolul lui Chomsky. Ce pot sa spun... Inca unul din criticii dinspre stanga ai lui Obama, de parca n-ar avea destui din partea cealalta. Si nu stiam ca este atat de expert in afaceri militare si strategice.
    Si mie mi se pare ca Obama e cam prea timid in unele domenii, inteleg ca exista o prudenta inerenta... Data fiind ruptura radicala la nivel simbolic reprezentata de simpla lui prezenta la Casa Alba, simte nevoia sa dea semnale de continuitate poate mai des decat e pe gustul meu.
    Dar a-l face un fel de campion al militarismului si al imperialismului american nu e decat un simptom al vesnicii nemultumiri a stangii radicale. Cum bine zicea Al Giordano: astia sunt pur si simplu suparati ca omul lor a castigat, nu i-o pot ierta. In lumea lor, puritatea ideologica merge mana in mana cu cultul infrangerii. O imbunatatire a situatiei nu-i multumeste, ei vor mereu totul sau nimic... de fapt mereu nimic.
    I-as raspunde lui Chomsky sa-l compare pe Obama cu alternativele. Hillary in campanie a amenintat cu stergerea de pe harta a Iranului ("we will obliterate them"). De McCain nu mai spun (are cantecelul faimos cu "bomb, bomb Iran"). Contextul conteaza, la fel si plaja de alternative.

  8. chomsky a spus inca din timpul campaniei ca nu este mare diferentza intre cei doi candidatzi, unul republican shi celelalt democrat....

    in materie de politica externa shi interna, Obama nu poate schimba in esentza mare lucru.... dovada am descoperit-o urmarind un documentar despre ce s-a intimplat la Waco - Texas cind F.B.I. - ul a masacrat grupul de davidieni condus de David Koresh.... Inspre final, acolo unde sint oferite declaratziile politicienilor, am avut surpriza sa ascult democratzi cu discurs republican....

    daca ai 2 ore shi eshti curios sa verifici, "Waco" este o buna dovada shi argument in favoarea celor scrise de Chomsky....