Obama, war, justice, and hope…

“If you want peace, work for justice” -Msgr. Oscar Romero
I’ve been thinking a great deal about The Nobel Prize speech given by President Obama earlier this week, mostly because a number of friends have sent me links to articles or their thoughts about what Just War or Just Peace would look like. Partly I am in awe that someone as articulate as Barack Obama sat and listened to me for a little while. I thought his speech itself was masterfully written, tracing the outline of contemporary war history, and outlining a pragmatic philosophy for peace building.

My friend Brad sent this article along about the influence of Reinhold Neihbur on Obama. I found it fascinating, but not that elucidating. Neihbur took such a range of positions on war in his time, ending in a place of pragmatism just short of Just War theory. Obama’s speech seemed to uphold this place, but the pragmatism seems to stop short of real substance.

Brad also sent along this article about how the President came to his decision for a troop surge in Afghanistan. I can tell you that the tension in Washington this season has been palpable. Healthcare, Financial Policy, Gay Marriage in the District, and other arguments have left people taxed and tired. But the waiting game for Obama’s decision on Afghanistan was the most intense of them all. What would be our new foreign policy? Would the president listen to his Vice President and advocate the use of drones and selective strikes? In the midst of all the pressure, it was simply impressive how long the president took to think through his decision.

He made the announcement just in time to give the most important speech on war/peace policy in recent history. What disappoints me about the Nobel Speech is that Obama does not talk specifically about the shape of anti-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

Let’s be clear. President Obama did not decide to go to war. He inherited two wars, and now has to decide what impact his actions will have for the United States and in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision to emphasize counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, to make a costly commitment to lasting security, was a tough one. Between the two potential options presented: a surge for the sake of counter-insurgency OR intensified impersonal drone strikes, I am impressed that the president made the costly but I think right decision to commit troops and work for security.

What I didn’t hear, what I’m waiting to hear, is a strategy for bettering of the life of the common Afghan cjitizen. If we send troops to provide security that is step one. In a country with rampant illiteracy, why not send teachers? why not send doctors? why not send community organizers? why not send experts in government? why not send David Plouffe to find and create a political campaign for a young upstart Afghan with a vision of Hope for her people?

Until we complement our armed forces with a serious, organized, and funded strategic force for the upbuilding of just society, we will simply be fighting unjust wars. When armies become security mechanisms for bands of teachers and organizers, then we will see the start of that gradual evolution of humanity that Obama desires so much in his speech. Some have called such work the building of the Kingdom of God. Let’s hope.

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

One thought on “Obama, war, justice, and hope…

  1. I don’t mean to pick a nit but I will anyway: http://www.slate.com/id/1008383/.

    As someone who wrote his master’s thesis on just war theory, I was delighted to hear it get a mention in Oslo. There’s not a lot of attention in just war theory paid to what happens after the war and that’s precisely the question Obama has to wrestle with now – how to build that just society. I have my doubts that it can be built by people carrying guns.


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