The Obama Doctrine

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I have read and reread President Obama's lecture to the Nobel Prize committee and distinguished guests upon his award of the Peace Prize.  I find it to be a powerful and important statement, not just of American foreign policy under this President, but of how we as humans might learn to address and resolve conflicts.

I have been working on an essay about the principles of nonviolence Martin Luther King used in his efforts on behalf of civil rights in America so I was especially sensitive to Obama's references. To have a President, especially one who is increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, cite King (and Gandhi) as models to follow and to do so in a way that is coherent and carefully considered illuminates the reasons Obama got the award. That he received it saying so many things that so many of his liberal supporters find disagreeable makes it only more remarkable.

I myself didn't agree with everything he had to say. But my disagreement has mostly to do with his use of the term nonviolence in ways that, while consistent with popular usage, limits the meaning to "a set of tactics appropriate to actions taken by oppressed persons addressing grievances against an authority which is morally sensitive."  If we limit the term in that way then he is right, it wouldn't have worked against the Nazis and it won't work with al Qaeda.

But if we are looking not so much at the tactics as at the philosophy that undergirds it, and think more creatively about how conflicts can be resolved, then we discover some important principles that unite Nonviolence and the Obama Doctrine. Among them:

  • We are all connected in a great web of care and concern. What affects one of us affects all of us.
  • Passivity or patience in the face of oppression is not only an abandonment of our moral responsibility but is also an invitation to greater violence.
  • The road to peace is through a process of relationship building with those with whom we disagree.
  • Justice is not simply about the rule of law but is also about the equitable distribution of rights and resources, but such equity is not possible without the rule of law.
  • We cannot allow the fact that others abandon righteous behavior to allow us to depart from the values we hold.

These are all examples of the kinds of principles which I hope to celebrate and promote through the promulgation of Creative Conflict Resolution and through Just Conflict.  I welcome your comments.

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