David Cortright's comments on the president's Nobel lecture appear to have missed some positive possibilities in it. Importantly, below the headline-grabbing references to realism, and the debate about the meaning and application of "just war" doctrine, were openings for peaceniks, if I may use that old and I hope still-honorable term. President Obama recognized three critical realities. One, that all war kills innocent people. And two, that under international law a “just war” has to be a/the last resort. It follows then as a message of hope and challenge for antiwar folks that (1) if innocent life is sacred then war can (almost) never be justified morally or legally; and (2) since war has seldom, almost never, been the last resort of governments, it is almost never justified.
Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of the speech was the third reality, again between the lines, recognition of the effectiveness of antiwar organizing. While not mentioning it explicitly, the president seems to recognize the validity of the research of, among others, David Cortright (in his books Peace Works and Gandhi and Beyond) and Larry Wittner in his studies of the nuclear disarmament movement.
Thus, peace groups, if they are organized, permanent, and powerful, ought to be able to successfully put pressure on government officials, especially ones as thoughtful and imaginative as President Obama is, by seeking, finding, if needs be creating, options to war as solutions to international threats and violence. Maybe if the US Institute for Peace were operated as the gatekeeper to Pentagon action it could provide the resources, forum and credibility we would need to really move the United States towards where I believe the president wants it to be: a beacon for a peaceful, just and certainly non-nuclear world.
Dec 21 2009 - 10:21am