OCTOBER 9, 2009 2:14PM

Defining Moments

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Lamentations on Truth, Justice and the American Way

A headline in Thursday's USA Today spoke of President Barack Obama's "defining moment" in Afghanistan -- the theater former President George W. Bush chose eight years ago to showcase for the world the United States' response to the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks (and vowed, it should be noted, to hunt down and capture dead or alive Osama bin Laden).

One day later, our freshly minted American president has now been chosen to receive the 2009  Nobel Peace Prize.  It's as if some believe all the world's ills might be cured by sheer force of will --- that simply by describing Mr. Obama as a decisive leader, by calling him a man of peace -- history will one day reflect it was so.

Have the lessons of the past eight years truly gone so thoroughly unlearned?

I'm not here to suggest the Nobel Prize committee should have nominated someone else for its Peace award this year.  In fact, given global trends in the quest for peace and goodwill among men I think the committee might have made a more meaningful statement by refusing to declare at all a recipient for this year's award, making a double or nothing offer for next year's prize.

But I do have thoughts about defining moments I'd like to share, and present here a brief compendium of such for the gentle reader's consideration:

On the eighth anniversary of war in Afghanistan it may be safely said the United  States' adoption of the belligerent's role in that desolate land was the unmistakably defining moment of our country's pretentions to Empire. It was the defining moment of George W. Bush's failed presidency, a failure he and his acolytes reaffirmed many times over in the succeeding years.

Following shortly after his disasterous decision to invade Afghanistan, Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq became the defining moment of the United States' pretense to existence as a nation of laws. Thereafter, revelations of our sick and twisted embrace of torture as combatants in wartime at Abu Ghraib prison defined the country's descent to the moral plane occupied by the likes of ancient barbarians, Spanish Inquisitors and tin pot despots throughout history.

One hesitates to beat a dead horse, but George W. Bush's choice to play a round of golf and pretend to be able to play the guitar while the greatest natural disaster in the nation's history unfolded on the Gulf Coast in Hurricane Katrina -- along with the subsequent failure of his government's Federal Emergency Management Administration -- defined the racist, classist limitations of the United States' embrace of its calling as a government "of the people, by the people, for the people."

Even as the incompetence and criminal depredations of the Bush administration finally began to see the light of day in the waning years of its terrible reign, Nancy Pelosi's declaration that "impeachment is off the table" in the wake of the 2006 elections was a defining moment in the ultimate failure of the American experiment with democracy. 

This failure has lately been further defined by the present failure of congress to enact meaningful healthcare legislation, despite overwhelming evidence of the American people's desire for a national insurance plan, and despite a Democratic supermajority in the Senate.

More seriously, President Obama's failure to convene any sort of investigation of Bush adminstration officials -- from Alberto Gonzales to Donald Rumsfeld to Dick Cheney and to the former president himself --  Mr. Obama's failure to seek any kind of reconciliation of the previous administration's official acts with the laws and treaties of our nation has -- so far -- defined an ethical and intellectual bankruptcy of our entire system of governance.

While it might not be as plainly evident to many as it seems to your faithful correspondent, Mr. Obama's failure to rescind the Bush administration's policies on torture, his failure to abdicate the former administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, define him not as a man of peace but as a man of cowardice. His failures  define the ultimately hollow content of his message of Hope and Change, and they define the end stages of a once promising nation where Freedom and Opportunity are in ever shorter supply.


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There's a lot here I agree with and some that I don't. Regarding the peace prize though, I'm reminded of Kissinger winning it in '73 for his supposed attempts to end the Vietnam War, which of course drug on for two more years. When the Nobel committee awards the prize for intentions or assumed goals rather than actual accomplishments, they're getting ahead of themselves.
I guess that message on my answering machine yesterday from Thorbjoen Jagland can be erased then.

I concur with what Jeff said - there is much I agree with here, Lonnie, and some I'm not so sure about. But you have certainly presented a well-reasoned case.

"I would think the committee might have made a more meaningful statement by refusing to declare at all a recipient for this year's award"

Amen, brother, as I said on GWool's post, have we gotten so low that a man is so honored simply for stating the obvious truth that America's foreign policy has been a little shall we say over the top?
My opinion? The Nobel Committee gave Obama the Prize as a repudiation of the Bush years.
Great piece. Excellent analysis. R
Hope & Change...let's first see if it happens and then give out the awards. Very well said. rated
Read, rated, and thinking about the points you make here.
Obama is "surprised and deeply humbled." If he is a man wise to the ways of mankind, nature and/or heaven, that bodes well. As for us, we have supreme power. But it is relegated to election cycles. If a politician/office holder disappoints, that memory needs to survive the next cycle of speechifying and spending for TV ads. In Helena as it is in Lincoln. In Little Rock as it is in Dover and Hartford. For ours is the occasional kingdom, the power and the glory of the Constitution and it ain't dead quite yet, amen. Good to hear from you, LonBud.
You stay gone too damn long Lonnie. I hate to see Obama referred to as a man of cowardice: I hope that is not true, but it's very hard for me to argue the opposite based on actions... or non actions, especially after reading this well articulated piece.

I can only hope that having received this award which he himself has acknowledged he hasn't earned, he may find he has something to live up to
Apparently the road to Hell AND the nobel peace prize is paved with good intentions. I guess we all deserve one then?

The international community has set him up to fail.
First of all, please stand up and take a bow for having the courage to speak. There is little I can argue with here, Lonnie. Your points are made with razor sharp precision in clear language that anyone with half a brain can understand. That you managed to put together these thoughts as articulately and cogently as you have, does not surprise me in the least. That we need to read more stuff from you just like this one goes without saying. Your writing and intellect both shine brightly here. This post needs to go viral. I'm hitting Digg and Reddit.
This was a pleasure to read, Lonnie. Thanks for it.
Really good brain food from a really good heart and mind.
Thanks, everyone, for your kind words and compliments. I'd like to be clear about this, especially in the light of upwelling pride and a general cosensus that Obama's award represents a repudiation of GW Bush and signals a U.S. return to the family of nations:

Until we as a country confront and redress the terrible things done in our names by the Bush administration, until our government does something more than pay lip service to the idea that 'we do not torture' and until we withdraw our troops from Iran and Afghanistan no American leader can be said to promote the cause of peace in the world.

Obama inherited a nearly hopeless situation and while he has thus far conducted himself with far more class, erudition and diplomacy than his predecessor, his substantive acts - and omissions - have not in fact served to promote real peace either at home or abroad.
I'm not that pessimistic. I try to look at it from the reasoning of the committee, who are after all, citizens of the world that America has been scaring the pants off for 8 years now. Perhaps the Nobel committee thinks the best way to encourage diplomatic solutions to problems is to send a strong message of approval to Obama for taking at less bombastic stance, not necessarily toward Afghanistan but toward the rest of the world.

I was against the war in Afghanistan, but that is the only remotely defensible war we've had since WWII. The Taliban implicitly endorsed an attack on our country by their hospitality toward Al Qaeda, which is the only real offense any country other than the Soviet Union has given us since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

I hope, as many do, that Obama is still morally genuine enough to never forget that he's a Peace Prize winner and to let that be his guiding principle. Good, passionate writing, Lonnie.
I second Jane's motion. Speak the truth. Good job, Lonnie.