Obama, Kissinger and the Nobel Peace Prize

Obama Kissinger

An important feature of the western political establishment has been that while all the time speaking about world peace it has been extremely destructive in terms of its violence towards the Global South in particular, and entire nations ( Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Vietnam, to mention only a few) were destroyed and democratically elected governments of many countries have been toppled, replacing them with dictatorships including those notorious for torture, while speaking all the time of the commitment of USA led western establishment to peace and democracy. Western political leaders generally avoid speaking against this although this has claimed several million human lives. On the contrary those who played leading roles in this alarming injustice were rewarded in many ways and continued, many even now continue, to lead highly comfortable and increasingly prosperous life after committing very serious crimes.

In this context it is instructive to examine the case of two Nobel peace prizes being awarded to such top leaders whose actions had the main responsibility for the entirely avoidable deaths of a very large number of innocent people, including children. As these are supposed to be top awards in the decisions regarding which a lot of thinking and consultation are involved, the selection of those responsible for many, many innocent deaths for these awards can be an appropriate case-study for understanding the schizophrenic trends in western thinking regarding peace, and such understanding is important as a first step for resisting and avoiding such tendencies.

The first such case is that of Barack Obama, the USA President during 2009-2017, which is particularly interesting as he appears to be so extremely sincere when speaking about his commitments to peace and democracy. Yet the undeniable fact is that in Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and several other countries he shared a very important part of the responsibility for thousands of innocent people killed. His years in office saw the relentless pursuit of the same highly distorted and questionable so-called ‘war on terror’ that has already taken around a million lives in direct conflict since it was initiated in 2001 ( and around 4.5 million lives if indirectly caused deaths are included), a significant number of these during the tenure of Obama. During his presidency 26,171 bombs are estimated to have been dropped by the USA in 2016 alone, or 72 per day.

Obama has contributed more than anyone else to killing of people in distant areas by drone attacks. It appears from published accounts that during a period on almost every Tuesday he used to take a personal interest in selecting the victims of the next drone attacks. While some terrorists were hit, the number of innocent or unintended people dying or getting very painfully injured and disabled in such attacks in many countries was much higher. In the case of Operation Haymaker in northeast Afghanistan, official reviews indicated that 90% of those killed in US drone attacks appeared to be unintended victims. Even people in countries, like Somalia and Yemen, not officially in conflict with the USA, were targeted. Where was international law? Were the perpetrators of such attacks not acting like terrorists themselves? None within the establishment had any time for such questions. Jeremy Scahill has written in his book The Assassination complex– Inside the Secret Drone War Program, “Obama has codified assassination as a central official component of American foreign policy. This is a global assassination program that is authorized and run under what amounts to a parallel legal system…where the President and his advisers serve as the judge, jury and the executioner of people across the globe.”

Obama spoke publicly for a world free of nuclear weapons, then went on to speed up additions to nuclear arsenal during the years of his presidency, with bigger budgets for nuclear warheads. With allies France and Britain he destroyed Libya, turning a country with high human development indicators into a land of endless internal strife, with adverse impacts on several neighboring countries as well. There was carpet bombing, mass graves, children dying in large numbers and Obama openly told big lies to justify it all. Bolivian President Evo Morales was so angry that he gave a call for revoking Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, a call that is still valid.   In Egypt a democratically elected government was toppled, to be replaced by a military dictatorship, justified by Obama officials as restoration of democracy. Under the watch of the first African-American President, as Nick Turse reported in the Nation, in 2014 the US carried out 674 military activities across Africa, nearly two missions per day, an almost 300% increase in the number of annual operations, exercises and military to military training activities since the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established.

It was during the Obama presidency that the roots of the present Ukraine crisis were established with the notorious coup and removal of a democratic government in Ukraine in 2014 ( as well as other provocative actions nearer to Russian borders), and pivot -to-Asia policy leading to increasing aggression against China was initiated.

The way in which Obama sought to use the narrative of the killing of bin Laden , which itself had several several aspects which needed better explanation, to his political advantage for seeking re-election also revealed a rather shady side of his personality.

Secondly, let us consider the case of the Nobel Peace Prize for Henry Kissinger who dominated USA foreign policy during 1969 to 1977 in the Presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He was appointed National Security Advisor in 1969 and Secretary of State in 1973. It has been widely documented since then that he played a very important role, likely to be a crucial and decisive role, in initiating and supporting in a big way anti-democratic, illegal, violent, catastrophic actions and activities in several nations which resulted in deaths of a very large number of people, including democratically elected, highly popular national leaders like Allende in Chile and Mujibur Rehman in Bangladsh.

Although documentation for this is spread over hundreds of articles and declassified pieces of information, perhaps the most detailed and most discussed documentation for this is available in  a book ‘ Trial of Henry Kissinger’ written by Christopher Hitchens which is written almost as a document which can be used for trial in a court of law.

Of course there is in addition a lot of other documentation, all the more so in the specific context of the tragic events in Chile, Cambodia and Laos, Bangladesh and several other countries of the Global South which suffered from coups, killings and carpet bombings unleashed by the arbitrary, ill-reasoned decisions taken by US foreign policy under the watch of Kissinger during 1969-77. Recently new evidence has become valuable of the extreme destructiveness of Kissinger’s policies in Cambodia.

Documentation is also available on opposition to his policies by principled USA officials who were close to local realities and opposed the whimsical decisions of Kissinger taken in cruel violation of the advice of on-the-ground US officials. As Prof. Greg Grandin of New York University wrote, “ A back of the envelope count would attribute three, may be four million deaths  to Kissinger’s actions, but that number probably undercounts his victims.”

The reason why Prof. Grandin said this is that the tragic impacts of arbitrary and cruel actions continued long after the immediate catastrophic events. For example the overthrow of the popular, democratic government of Allende in Chile caused a large number of killings, imprisonments and torture cases in the immediate aftermath of the coup, but in addition we cannot forget that this started the long and brutal regime of Pinochet dictatorship, with the support of US foreign policy under Kissinger, and this also led to so many avoidable deaths, imprisonments and tortures over a longer term.

Again in Cambodia and Laos over 3500 carpet bombings caused up to half a million deaths but in addition in Cambodia this indirectly helped the brutal communist regime of Pol Pot to come to power and unleash its own mass deaths. In Bangladesh the immediate results of Kissinger dominated policies led first to the killing of nearly 2.5 million persons in genocide by Pakistani forces and its collaborators in 1971 ( plus emergence of 10 million displaced refugees), and later to the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the popular  President, his family members and close colleagues in a coup in 1975. In addition authoritarian military regimes installed by this coup kept their atrocities and repressions going for nearly their 21 years after this.

What makes the conduct of Kissinger even more terrible is that he ignored repeatedly the sane and sage advice of important regional US diplomats. During the ongoing genocide in Bangladesh in 1971 for example, the Dacca based US Consul General and the US Ambassador to India are known to have pleaded repeatedly for stopping the US support for the genocide, but Kissinger and Nixon disregarded them and their advice and went ahead with their total support for ‘good friend’ Yahya Khan, who was overseeing the genocide from his base in Pakistan.

The repeated misdeeds reveal the working of a highly cynical, narrow and cruel mindset, insensitive to mass human suffering and guided only by perceived self-interest. This is revealed in his statements like asking for bombing anything that moves (in the context of Cambodia ) and saying in the context of Cyprus—the illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer. He made fun of those who expressed anguish at the massacre of ‘Bengali Hindus’.

In the case of the Nobel peace prize for Obama, the prize committee can try to take refuge in the fact that the prize was given at a time when the violent deeds of the President were not yet revealed for the greater part (although the question still remains regarding why the prize was given at such an early stage), but in the case of Kissinger even such a fig leaf is not available.

A highly worrying aspect is that when such crimes against humanity go unpunished and in fact are rewarded with the top most prizes, then this is likely to pave the way for even worse crimes in future. This is exactly the opposite of the aim of the Nobel Peace Prize. Hence the Nobel Prize Committee should revoke these two prizes even at this late stage to avoid sending the dark message that the worst perpetrators of violence can get the topmost peace prize.

Bharat Dogra is Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Man over Machine—A Path to Peace, Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.

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