copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
~ Barack Obama (President of the United States. Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. December 10, 2009)
For years, Americans saw live, and in person, or on television screens, Presidential aspirant Barack Obama. Several mused; the man is calm in a crisis. “No drama Obama” was the phrase most often associated with the candidate. Those closely and personally connected to the potential President corroborated what was for most only an observation. The election did not change Barack Obama. His calm demeanor remained intact. Yet, many perceived a difference, not in his response to a predicament, but in the President’s rhetoric. Empathy evolved into escalation. This was perhaps most evident on two occasions, when Mister Obama delivered his Address on the War in Afghanistan, and then again when the Commander-In Chief offered his Remarks in acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. After these events, the pensive pondered; what was there all along, Cerebral Discord, the Two Faces of Barack Obama.
During the Presidential campaign, millions were aware of the dichotomy. For Barack Obama the need for empathy and the escalation of armed forces seemed to safely coexist. Others, hopeful, for a change may have chosen to forgive what was a concern. Perchance Mister Obama’s persuasive language assuaged the American people, or they too may have suffered from the same condition, intellectual disharmony.
Possibly, the public was either so eager or expectant, that they did not wish to wonder what might occur if Barack Obama acted on the more aggressive stance he often took. Troop escalation in Afghanistan is a must. The words the President of the United States postured in his recent remarks at West Point and in Oslo, at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, while countless thought anathemas, were as he presented in his published plan on July 14, 2008.
As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.
Yet, most Americans and the Nobel Prize Committee were stunned when as President, Barack Obama fulfilled his promise. More struggled with what they heard days later. In his acknowledgement of the award he was about to receive, the Peace Prize, Barack Obama explained, and exclaimed, as has been his well-established habit; empathy is essential and compassion can not cure the world’s ills.
While the rhetoric was exquisite, and the rationalizations seemed sound, the inconsistency awakened awareness. At once, observers were alarmed by what was apparent for quite awhile. There are Two Faces of Barack Obama.
The few who had feared his empathetic side welcomed the warlike stance of the current Commander. Others felt the sacramental observance, the Nobel Peace Prize Presentation, was not the place to promote war. Nor is it thought apt for the beneficiary of such a significant award to advocate for armed conflict. Even those who trusted he would do as he had done, and say as he did, found it difficult to grapple with what Barack Obama has for all of his life: cognitive dissonance.
Some may ask; how can one man, woman, or one mind so adamantly adhere to the idea of empathy, and also embrace the notion that our fellow man is our enemy. What is it that drives a desire to reason love and peace are harmonious with hatred and war? Why would a brilliant being think violence builds benevolence?
The cause, or perchance the effect, of the President’s condition was delineated and defined in 1956. five years before Barack Obama was even a thought in the mind of his mother Ann Dunham. Prior to his conception, few imagined that today a baby, born to an average Americans schoolgirl, would be addressed as Mister President. All those decades ago, an individual whose background was as varied as Barack Obama’s is, could not be expected to achieve the grandeur he has. At the time, to even ponder the possibility might evoke Cognitive Dissonance, had the notion been a known construct.
Today, Social Psychologist Leon Festinger’s theory is an accepted truth. Humans have honed the art of rationalization. Some offer seemingly reasonable interpretations better than most others. Mister Obama spoke of his skill to allegorize, to offer an analysis that is coherent, and cogent. Indeed, as he wrote in his most recent tome, The Audacity of Hope, President Obama offered that through conversation, he could conquer an adversary.
Readers of his book may recall the beloved tale that endeared the President to those who hoped Barack Obama might be a man of peace. The story led many, perhaps even the Nobel Peace Prize Committee 2009, to believe this Head of State is worthy of the honor he was awarded.
Like most of my values, I learned about empathy from my mother. She disdained any kind of cruelty or thoughtlessness or abuse of power, whether it expresses itself in the form of racial prejudice or bullying in the schoolyard or workers being underpaid. Whenever she saw even a hint of such behavior in me she would look me square in the eyes and ask, “How do you think that would make you feel?”
But it was in the relationship with my grandfather that I think I first internalized the full meaning of empathy. Because my mother’s work took her overseas, I often lived with my grandparents during my high school years, and without a father present in the house, my grandfather bore the brunt of most of my adolescent rebellion. He himself was not always easy to get along with; he was at once warmhearted and quick to anger, and in part his career had not been particularly successful, his feelings could also be easily bruised. By the time I was sixteen we were arguing all of the time, usually about me failing to abide by what I considered to be an endless series of petty and arbitrary rules–filling up the gas tank whenever I borrowed his car, say, or making sure that I rinsed out the milk carton before I put it in the garbage.
With a certain talent for rhetoric, as well as an absolute certainty about the merits of my own views, I found that I could generally win these arguments, in the narrow sense of leaving my grandfather flustered, angry, and sounding unreasonable. But at the same point, perhaps in my senior year, such victories started to feel less satisfying. I started thinking about the struggles and disappointments he had seen in his life. I started to appreciate his need to feel respected in his own home. I realized that abiding by his rules would cost me little, but to him it would mean a lot. I recognized that sometimes he really did have a point, and that in insisting on getting my own way all the time, without regard to his feelings or needs, I was in some way diminishing myself.
There’s nothing extraordinary about such an awakening, of course. In one form or another it is what we all must go through if we are to grow up. And yet I find myself returning again and again to my mother’s simple principle–“How would that make you feel?”–as a guidepost for my politics.
It’s not a question we ask ourselves enough, I think; as a country we seem to be suffering from an empathy deficit.
I believe a stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society. After all, if they are like us, then their struggles are our own. If we fail to help, we diminish ourselves.
~ Barack Obama excerpt from The Audacity of Hope
At the time he wrote those words, as Senator, and an author who aspired to inspire, Barack Obama reminded readers, No one is exempt from the call to find common ground.” That is, unless, as he clarified with the Nobel Peace Prize in his grasp, “(A)s a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. Today, the man who occupies the White House would seem to no longer believe as his followers thought, or hoped he did,
Perchance, a culture mired in its own cerebral discord did not acknowledge that Barack Obama has always been a mirror image of society. He speaks of his love of peace. He yearns for global harmony, yet President Obama believes war is a worthy endeavor. For the once candidate and also for the Commander-In-Chief who currently occupies the Oval Office, empathy is thought as necessary as escalation. The Two disparate Faces of Obama are as they were, united.
Barack Obama has not changed. Only people’s perception of him has been transformed, transitioned just as predicted, or has revealed itself to be as the President pledged. The public saw the side of Mister Obama that he presented, and or, the one as individuals, each American might prefer. He has always been one who embraces empathy as he asserts evil exists.
Little more than a year ago, when but a Presidential hopeful Obama offered his carefully crafted message while in Church, Christians rejoiced, as did those of many faiths. On August 16, 2008, the world watched the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. Barack Obama presented his peaceful posture, not the face of the person who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for to us have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil, because a lot of evil’s been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil. . . .
In the name of good, and I think, you know, one thing that’s very important is having some humility in recognizing that just because we think that our intentions are good, doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good.”
What a difference a day makes. As a potential representative of the people, on the night of the Presidential Forum, Obama expressed as he had in his tome, “Mutual understanding is not enough. People must practice as they profess to believe.” However, as he himself once chimed “Talk is cheap.” The philosophy Presidential candidate Obama bequeathed upon the American people, the thought that gave constituents hope has been shelved. The sentiment is available only in archives far from the White House Situation Room.
When I was a community organizer back in the eighties, I would often challenge neighborhood leaders by asking them where they put their time, energy, and money. Those are the true tests of what we value, I’d tell them, regardless of what we like to tell ourselves. If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.
The Nobel Committee might have read the passage, and as was stated, they wanted to support Mister Obama’s approach. Accolades for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples” was thought to be sufficient to explain what those who were troubled by the March 2009 escalation could not understand.
Perchance, his mere election alone meant that “Obama has, as President, created a new climate in international politics.” After all, near a year before the Nobel announcement, Barack Obama had completed his original mission as articulated in 2004, “My job is to inspire people to take ownership of this country.”
Possibly, at the time of the official announcement, the Norwegian group was as mesmerized as the world was. They too reveled in what Barack Obama acknowledged in his book; he has a “gift for rhetoric.”
That may explain why in an October Press Release the Nobel Institute stated that they thought Barack Obama embodied the essence of their belief “Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.” At the time, the Norwegian Stortingof might have recalled the eloquent and empathetic language of the world leader. The Committee may have been so moved by the peaceful prose of the President they did not realize they had only caught sight of one of the Two Face of Obama.
While the Peace Prize is intended to go to whoever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” on this occasion it did not.
A warrior, or one who sends tens of thousands of American sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and sibling off to slaughter and to be slaughtered received the honor. The combatant face of Obama who surrenders his more peacefully stated principles claimed the accolade.
In his Oslo lecture, the President did not acknowledge his cerebral discord. Instead, he reasoned as researchers realized those who wrestle with cognitive dissonance do. From the windows of the White House, President Obama, tells us, decisions look very different, (or did they, since Barack Obama actually did as he penned he would in his July 2008 plan) Protected in the cocoon of a title, Commander-In-Chief, it is possible to order the massacre of a population comprised mostly of children, under the age of fourteen (14) and to do it “faster.”
Rationalization realized when cognitive dissonance dominates allows for avoidance and less authentic analysis. Simply stated, President Obama professed to the Nobel audience, “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.” This is the Obama escalation truth, regardless of a reality shared by his National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones, on Cable News Network’s “State of the Union” only days before the Peace Prize Committee announced that President Obama would win the award.
“Obviously, the good news is that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases. No ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.
Now the problem is the next step in this is the sanctuaries across the border. But I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in danger — imminent danger of falling.
The intelligence General Jim Jones imparted was ignored just as the guidance from U.S. Afghan envoy, retired General, Karl Eikenberry was. General Eikenberry advised against escalation. However, the empathetic President, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient exclaimed to his Cabinet and Commanders, “What I’m looking for is a surge.”
Barack Obama favors, the fight. An Afghanistan Apocalypse. seems reasonable when rationalized through the eyes of one comfortable with cerebral discord. From the Executive Office, empathy equates to a troops escalation.
Perhaps, one day, anathemas such as war will advance authentic prospects for global harmony. Intellectual cacophonies, two faces shared by a man, (a nation, or the world) will merge into one. Then, and only then, will change emerge, and peace be truly prized.
Surge reduced violence; but distracts us from long-term goal.
~ Barack Obama. CBS News interview with Katie Couric, July 28, 2008
End the war, and end the mindset that got us into war.
~ Barack Obama. 2008 Democratic debate in Los Angeles, California, January 31, 2008
Never fudge numbers or shade the truth about war.
~ Barack Obama. Keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention July 29, 2004
References for a dual realty . . .
- Obama’s Address on the War in Afghanistan, Text. The New York Times. December 2, 2009
- Obama’s Nobel Remarks Text. The New York Times. December 11, 2009
- My Plan for Iraq, By Barack Obama. The New York Times. July 14, 2009
- Go Ahead, Rationalize. Monkeys Do It, Too. By John Tierney. The New York Times. November 6, 2007
- A Free-Spirited Wanderer Who Set Obama’s Path, By Janny Scott. The New York Times. March 14, 2008
- NBC’s Todd and CBS’s Reid Fret Over ‘Stress’ of Presidency on Obama, By Brent Baker. MSNBC. November 19, 2009
- US Afghanistan envoy Gen Karl Eikenberry urges Barack Obama not to send more troops, By Ben Farmer in Kabul and Aislinn Laing. Telegraph. November 12, 2009
- U.S. ambassador warns against Afghanistan troop buildup, By Paul Richter. The Los Angeles Times. November 12, 2009
- Transcript: Obama’s Speech Against The Iraq War. National Public Radio. January 20, 2009
- Iraq War. The Nation.
- Afghanistan. The World Fact Book. Central intelligence Agency.
- Afghanistan Apocalypse. By Robert Dreyfuss. The Nation. August 26, 2009
- Press Release. The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. The Norwegian Nobel Committee. Oslo, October 9, 2009
- Barack Obama, By Gregory Hession. New American. May 26, 2008
- How Obama Came to Plan for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan, By Peter Baker. The New York Times. December 6, 2009
- Full Transcript: Saddleback Presidential Forum, Sen. Barack Obama, John McCain; Moderated by Rick Warren. Clips And Comments. August 17, 2008
- Obama Sounds Cautious Note as He Sets Out Afghan Plan, By David Stout. The New York Times March 27, 2009
- The Christian Candidates and the Question of Evil, By Paul Raushenbush. BeliefNet. August 17, 2008
- Obama wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. British Broadcasting Company. October 9, 2009
- The Nobel Peace Prize. Norwegian Nobel Committee.
- State of the Union. Cable News Network. October 4, 2009