Obama’s Leadership: Forward!?

If President Obama wins re-election today, I want him to provide us leadership in the most important aspect facing our global future. Humans everywhere are faced with a threat that we can no longer ignore. Unfortunately, during his first four years President Obama didn’t ignore the problem. He made it worse. His 2012 campaign slogan was Forward!. But, in this area, he has taken us backward.  And we, the American people, need to hold him accountable before it’s too late.

The problem that threatens the very existence of humanity is obvious. We all know what the problem is, and yet we don’t want to deal with it. We feel the problem is too big and so we ignore it. And we know that deep down the problem is within us, but we don’t want to admit it, so we suppress it. In suppressing the problem within us, we project the problem onto others – those we call our enemies. It’s too painful to admit that we are infected, so we become blind to the problem within us and only see the problem within them.

The greatest problem facing the future of humanity is violence. Physical violence, yes, but also economic, political, spiritual, and emotional. We live in a culture of violence, as Mitt Romney stated in the second debate. Our future depends on transforming the culture of violence that permeates the United States and that permeates the world. We desperately need a president who is courageous enough to lead the world from a culture of violence into a culture of peace.

Four years ago I had high hopes that President Obama would provide that courage. I got caught up in “change we can believe in.” But, when it comes to providing real change on the issue that most haunts our future, Obama has provided more of the same violence. We all want peace. The problem is with our violent methods to achieve peace. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, President Obama stated, “Let us reach for the world that ought to be. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace.” The problem is that violence doesn’t clear our eyes. Violence blinds us to taking responsibility for the problem that threatens our future.

For example, take the drone attacks. Obama has no intention of ending drone attacks, despite the terror they cause to civilians. When it comes to drones, the truth of the cliché is evident – One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. In his article “The Buzzing Wasps”, journalist Bob Koehler states that drone attacks “don’t keep us safe. They prolong the war.” He goes on to quote the executive summary of an exhaustive study titled “Living under Drones.” The summary states,

U.S. drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.

In fighting the war on terror, we have lost all moral authority. We have become just like the terrorists we are fighting. Violence erases all distinctions between “good” guys and “bad” guys. We become enemy twins, willing to use any method to defeat our enemies. Which only ensures one thing: that we will create a new generation of enemies who will use violence in the name of justice. Of course, we will interpret their “justice” as aggression and revenge. As the anthropologist Rene Girard stated in his book Violence and the Sacred,

Why does the spirit of revenge, wherever it breaks out, constitute such an intolerable menace? Perhaps because the only satisfactory revenge for spilt blood is spilling the blood of the killer; and in the blood feud there is no clear distinction between the act for which the killer is being punished and the punishment itself. Vengeance professes to be an act of reprisal and every reprisal calls for another reprisal. The crime to which the act of vengeance addresses itself is almost never an unprecedented offense; in almost every case it has been committed in revenge of some prior crime.

President Obama has frequently reminded us of the truth that “the only satisfactory revenge for spilt blood is spilling the blood of the killer.” It seems that he considers killing Osama bin Laden as his greatest accomplishment. When that event occurred, he led the American people in a celebration. But there is a great danger in celebrating death, even the death of a terrorist. Celebrating death is the culmination of a culture of violence, where the spirit of revenge wins the day.

President Obama has failed during his first four years to provide real change. His continued “War on Terror” has not created peace. It has made us less safe and has fostered a culture of violence within our nation. We are not a clear eyed nation. We are blind to the ways of peace. Peace will only come through peaceful means. If President Obama is re-elected, I hope this time he will provide change we can believe in. Starting with a change in our use of violence. For our battle is not against our violent enemies; our battle is with violence itself.

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  1. […] have seen the bodies, including the bodies of their children, left behind by drone strikes and other attacks from the air. They have buried the corpses of those gunned down by […]

  2. […] doesn’t provide peace and justice through the sword, or the gun, or drone attacks. In Jesus, God provides true peace and justice by becoming what theologian James Alison […]

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