One of the most notable developments surrounding the debate about the Nobel Committeeâ€™s decision to award Obama its peace prize has been the apparently spontaneous agreement by both Tom Friedman and Liz Cheney that the president should make the occasion a celebration of the U.S. military. It speaks volumes about the ideological anchorlessness of Friedman, who, according to a recent National Journal survey of Democratic and Republican insiders, is the media personality with the single greatest influence among party elites.
Hereâ€™s Cheney on â€œFox News Sundayâ€ after denouncing the Committeeâ€™s decision as a â€œfarce.â€
â€œBut I do think he [Obama] could send a real signal here. I think what he ought to do frankly is send a mother of a fallen American soldier to accept the prize on behalf of the U.S. military and frankly to send the message to remind the Nobel committee that each one of them sleeps soundly at night because the U.S. military is the greatest peacekeeping force in the world today.â€
And hereâ€™s Friedman after expressing dismay â€œthat the most important prize in the world has been devalued in this wayâ€ in his column published Saturday, entitled â€œThe Peace (Keepers) Prize.â€ Most of the column consists of â€œthe speech I hope he will giveâ€ when he accepts the prize in Oslo Dec 10:
â€œLet me begin by thanking the Nobel committee for awarding me this prize, the highest award to which any statesman can aspire. As I said on the day it was announced, â€˜I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures whoâ€™ve been honored by this prize.â€™ Therefore, upon reflection, I cannot accept this award on my behalf at all.
â€œBut I will accept it on behalf of the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century â€” the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.â€
There follows a series of inspirational paragraphs about the U.S. militaryâ€™s heroism and sacrifice from World War II through its rescue operations â€œfrom the mountains of Pakistan to the coasts of Indonesiaâ€ (with no mention of Vietnam whatsoever) before he concludes in a long coda:
â€œMembers of the Nobel committee, I accept this award on behalf of all these American men and women soldiers, past and present, because I know â€” and I want you to know â€” that there is no peace without peacekeepers.
â€œUntil the words of Isaiah are made true and lasting â€” and nations never again lift up swords against nations and never learn war anymore â€” we will need peacekeepers. Lord knows, ours are not perfect, and I have already moved to remedy inexcusable excesses weâ€™ve perpetrated in the war on terrorism.
â€œBut have no doubt, those are the exception. If you want to see the true essence of America, visit any U.S. military outpost in Iraq or Afghanistan. You will meet young men and women of every race and religion who work together as one, far from their families, motivated chiefly by their mission to keep the peace and expand the borders of freedom.
â€œSo for all these reasons â€” and so you understand that I will never hesitate to call on American soldiers where necessary to take the field against the enemies of peace, tolerance and liberty â€” I accept this peace prize on behalf of the men and women of the U.S. military: the worldâ€™s most important peacekeepers.â€
Note that thereâ€™s nothing in Friedmanâ€™s talk about â€œsoftâ€ or â€œsmart power,â€ of which he is supposed to be a strong exponent. Nor even about the countryâ€™s voters who voted Obama into office. Itâ€™s all about the military, its goodness, and even its altruism.
To my mind, the agreement between Cheney and Friedman makes for a great illustration of the the similarity in worldview between the hard right â€” I think Liz is actually more of a neo-con in her strong feelings about Israel than her dad ever was) and liberal interventionists like Friedman. And that worldview, of course, not only implicitly extols American exceptionalism, but also â€” to put it bluntly â€” American militarism, a phenomenon to which Andrew Bacevich devoted an entire book after the Iraq invasion.
Hereâ€™s some of what Bacevich, a retired army colonel who teaches at Boston University, wrote as excerpted on Tomdispatch.com in 2005:
â€œ[M]ainstream politicians today take as a given that American military supremacy is an unqualified good, evidence of a larger American superiority. They see this armed might as the key to creating an international order that accommodates American values. One result of that consensus over the past quarter century has been to militarize U.S. policy and to encourage tendencies suggesting that American society itself is increasingly enamored with its self-image as the military power nonpareil.
â€œâ€¦Since the end of the Cold War, opinion polls surveying public attitudes toward national institutions have regularly ranked the armed services first. While confidence in the executive branch, the Congress, the media, and even organized religion is diminishing, confidence in the military continues to climb. Otherwise acutely wary of having their pockets picked, Americans count on men and women in uniform to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. Americans fearful that the rest of society may be teetering on the brink of moral collapse console themselves with the thought that the armed services remain a repository of traditional values and old fashioned virtue.
Confidence in the military has found further expression in a tendency to elevate the soldier to the status of national icon, the apotheosis of all that is great and good about contemporary America. The men and women of the armed services, gushed Newsweek in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, â€œlooked like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. They were young, confident, and hardworking, and they went about their business with poise and Ã©lan.â€ A writer for Rolling Stone reported after a more recent and extended immersion in military life that â€œthe Army was not the awful thing that my [anti-military] father had imaginedâ€; it was instead â€œthe sort of America he always pictured when he explainedâ€¦ his best hopes for the country.â€