President Barack Obama’s willingness to confront the lawlessness and the calumnies of the Bush administration makes him a worthy and obvious recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Prize has been given in the past to those who fight oppression and restore hope.
President Obama has repaired much of the scarred reputation of the United States and restored the hope of Americans and people everywhere who opposed the antidemocratic and authoritarian acts of the Bush administration. In less than a year, he has personally revived the indispensible role of the United States to renew multilateral diplomacy, arms control and disarmament, and human and civil rights.
The Bush administration created a strategic nightmare for U.S. interests at home and abroad over the past eight years. The Iraq War remains the center of this nightmare, and President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney worked assiduously to create and employ a strategic disinformation campaign to convince Congress and the American people of the need for war. Their manipulation of the American people (and the international community) is still not fully understood, but their lies and disinformation became conventional wisdom to the mainstream media, falsely linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks and Iraqis to al-Qaeda.
How many Americans gave their lives in Iraq actually believing the propaganda about these links as well as the outright lies and fabrications about Iraq’s enriched uranium, aluminum tubes for nuclear testing, and mobile biological laboratories. The CIA incorporated these lies into a speech for Secretary of State Colin Powell, which was delivered to the United Nations just several weeks before the start of the Iraq War.
The Bush administration’s misuse of the intelligence community to make a phony case for war was matched by the politicization of virtually every agency in the national security arena. In addition to politicizing intelligence to make the case for war, the Central Intelligence Agency was brought into a world of secret prisons, torture and abuse, and extraordinary renditions. In an act of raw cynicism, President Bush gave the President’s Freedom Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian in the federal government, to CIA director George Tenet, who directed these policies.
The National Security Agency developed an illegal intrusion into the privacy of Americans with a program of warrantless eavesdropping that was far more comprehensive than we were led to believe. (The New York Times covered-up this story for more than a year.) The developer of the policy was NSA director Michael Hayden, who was then confirmed as director of CIA with nary a question from the Congress on his role in warrantless eavesdropping.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation used the Patriot Act to issue more than 30,000 “national security” letters every year to individuals and businesses, which required telecommunications companies and financial institutions to illegally disclose private information about their customers. The FBI also conducted an aggressive campaign of ethnic profiling against Arabs and Muslims that led nowhere.
The Pentagon played a major role in the campaign of politicization, creating the Office of Special Plans and the Counter Terrorist Evaluation Group to circulate phony and worthless intelligence to make the case for war. The Pentagon also created the Counter Intelligence Field Activity to conduct illegal surveillance against American citizens near U.S military facilities or in attendance at antiwar meetings.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created an illegal fact-gathering operation called TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) to collect “raw information” about “suspicious incidents.” Readers of “Animal Farm” will not be amused. President Obama certainly wasn’t; he has ended secret prisons, torture and abuse, and depoliticized the Department of Justice to make sure that renditions (and there have been none since his inauguration) are accompanied by judicial review and that the military respects the sovereignty of American citizens.
President Obama has methodically taken on these departments in an effort to demilitarize national security policy. The military will find slower growth in its inflated defense budgets, genuine arms control and disarmament with Russia, and a rejection of General Stanley McChrystal’s demands for 40,000-50,000 more troops in Afghanistan. Fortunately, the president recognizes the physical, financial, and emotional costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Saturday, the president pledged to end President Bill Clinton’s hypocritical policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which increased the hazing of gays in the military and abruptly ended the service of nearly 13,000 fighting men and women.
The CIA has had to accept the release of the Justice Department torture memoranda as well as the investigation of those CIA officers who conducted torture and abuse in excess of Justice Department guidelines. President Obama dismissed the objections of seven former CIA directors to this investigation. The CIA’s strategic intelligence may continue to have shortcomings, but not because the White House is demanding politicization of the intelligence product.
President Obama also inherited the numerous false representations of the Bush era, which damaged U.S. interests. The almost forgotten “axis of evil” speech of January 2002 illustrates the harm that the policies of President Bush did to our vital interests. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the United States and Iran engaged successfully in secret talks to deal with the chaos in Afghanistan in the wake of the overthrow of the Taliban.
The Iranians were elated to cooperate with us and to bolster the new Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai. Fortunately for our interests, Iran was holding under house arrest former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the most brutal mujaheddin leaders and a major recipient of U.S. assistance throughout the 1980s. Hekmatyar and his followers represented a major threat to the Karzai government, and we wanted him moved from house arrest to real arrest and eventual transfer to Afghan custody.
Following President Bush’s “axis” speech, however, which absurdly linked Iraq, North Korea, and Iran, the Tehran government released Hekmatyar and returned him to Afghanistan, where he resumed his leadership of the Hezb-i-Islami organization that is one of the deadliest insurgent forces in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. troops are taking their highest casualties in eastern Afghanistan since the invasion in eight years ago. President Obama’s new opening with Iran allows the United States to return the bilateral dialogue to the period after 9/11.
In less than a year, President Obama’s actions have significantly reversed the increased anti-Americanism and the decline in American influence that took place in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Nobel Peace Prize will enhance his credibility as well as the credibility of U.S. diplomacy. Troglodyte editorial writers may accuse the Nobel Committee of being “trapped in an adolescent adulation of Mr. Obama” (Financial Times) or describe a “certain cluelessness about America” (Washington Post), but the mere promise of Obama’s international agenda has led intransigent nations that seemed frozen in time to try to join the dialogue that Obama has started.
In the past few months, leaders in Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and even Burma have taken steps to enhance their international credentials. On Saturday, Turkey and Armenia, which had been prodded by the Obama administration, restored their diplomatic relations and reopened borders that had been closed since 1993. The Nobel Peace Prize gives moral weight and credibility to those who fight to end oppression and to energize international conciliation.
What in the world do the critics of the prize think that President Obama is trying valiantly to do?
Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.