I’m trying to get inside President Obama’s head to understand why he’s pressing so hard for an airstrike against Syria.
On September 4, a Swedish reporter asked Obama how he reconciles being a Nobel Peace Laureate (’09) with his current plans to attack Syria. Noticeably, he didn’t mention strategic ‘balance of power’ issues or a direct U.S. national security interest. Here’s his answer.
Obama is speaking emotionally — like a father — about the 400 dead children killed by gas, and he posits the issue as one for political leaders and all citizens to ask.
“At what point do we confront actions that are violating our common humanity?”
Framing the issue that way is profoundly shocking, at least to me, and it gives me hope. I agree with Obama, that is exactly how we should be looking at Syria. We should be looking through that lens at every atrocity, not simply when chemical weapons are deployed against defenseless civilians.
Obama’s framing of the issue demands that we consider:
- How do we define what constitutes “our common humanity”?
- What actions are appropriate to respond to such violations?
The President is really challenging Americans to have that discussion, and I suspect he is wrestling with the answers himself.
In 2007, I visited city hall in Oslo, Norway where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year. I think it’s the most magnificent city hall in the world.
Two years later Obama donned the mantle of Nobel Peace Laureate in that very same room.
Today I watched his 37-minute Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to see what I might gleam about his thinking in the current situation in Syria. Of course, he never once mentioned Syria or chemical weapons, but much of his 2009 speech is poignantly prescient to the situation in Syria today.
Obama’s speech begins as a university history lecture talking about “just war theory” and he notes that the old architecture of peace-keeping is buckling. He mentions the new types of war (sectarian civil wars as an example) and acknowledges that he does not have the answers about how to meet these new challenges in the 21st century, but he knows it will require us to “think in new ways”.
I’m going to watch it again.
Mr. President: You are grappling with finding a new way of thinking while holding onto the tools of the old way of thinking (a military response). Perhaps the two are incompatible.
You are one of the brightest Presidents America has had — at least in my lifetime — and if anyone can find a new way of thinking and responding to this crisis facing our common humanity, you can!