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Warmonger president in a peacenik suit

Shapeshifter campaigner who now recommends violence to cultivate tranquility.


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The world should have understood where things were going when Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.

We who sat and listened in the city hall in Oslo were shocked when the president of the US patiently explained why he had to wage war to achieve peace.

A tack he's used more and more ever since.

But things were different when he was sworn in as POTUS in January 2009.

The excitement and the expectations were enormous. One million came to Washington's National Mall to listen to (and perhaps get a glimpse of) the new president.

Then and there the US and the world saw a saviour destined to resolve world conflicts, a great number of them. The world saw an individual with superhuman capabilities.

Obama's first decision ever was in that spirit. Guantánamo would be closed. Obama promised.

He went on a conciliation trip to Europe and a G20 meeting in May. He was to try to repair the weak relations with traditional allies after eight years of destruction at the hands of George W Bush.

Obama kept a low profile in London. He seemed humble. He didn't point with his entire hand. No cowboy attitude. And he was still welcomed like a rock star. The interest in his visit was hysterical. I waited nearly an hour in a queue at the security checkpoint for the press conference. For even though we'd already been admitted to the secure area of the G20 meeting, we had to pass through another checkpoint for Obama. The threat level for the first black POTUS was considerable.

Surprising choice

He went to Prague from London. There he gave a speech about a world free of nuclear weapons.

He traveled to Cairo in June, gave a conciliation speech for the muslim world entitled 'A new beginning'.

Obama fever was at its peak.

The announcement from the Nobel Committee still came as a surprise. Only a few weeks earlier he'd announced a plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. In other words: he was escalating a war he'd promised to end. And this despite the fact that he knew it was impossible to defeat the Taliban.

So when we heard his speech that cold rainy evening in Oslo, there were many of us who wondered if the Nobel Peace Prize had gone to the right person.

Instead of speaking warmly about peace, Barack Obama used a lot of his time to explain why he was sending out more troops.

'Sometimes war is necessary', Obama said. The Nobel peace emblem cringed on the front of the podium.

'I haven't come with a solution to the war', he continued. 'But I know that the instruments of war have a role in the peace process.'

Backstep

It was likely in that precise moment that Barack the Shapeshifter shifted shapes again. The idealist and peacenik who voted against the invasion of Iraq took a step back, replaced by a warmongering president who didn't hesitate to use deadly violence as long as it served the interests of the US and his own agenda.

Obama the candidate for president was harshly critical of how George W Bush used drones to hunt terrorists through Asia and the middle east.

But after a while, Barack the elected president changed his mind about that. Use of drones has increased dramatically under Obama. And it's not just terrorists who are killed. Many innocent civilians are killed too. Oftentimes women and children. Something the military call 'collateral damage'. Many experts say that the use of drones is a violation of international law. Even at home, critics say that Obama, by approving the drone attacks, is guilty of mass murder. Trying Obama for war crimes is not an impossibility.

Secret attack

Drones for Obama are a comfortable way to keep chasing terrorists without much commotion. Most of the details of drone attacks are secret. Many of the attacks take place in remote areas far from media cameras. Screams from victimised families are seldom heard.

But Obama isn't putting US lives at risk, so he isn't criticised that much at home.

One of Obama's greatest international achievements was the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. After successfully staying out of sight for almost ten years, the US got information that bin Laden was hiding in a large villa in Abbottabad in Pakistan, only a few kilometres from a military compound.

How reliable was the information on bin Laden? Only Obama could give the green light.

Stronger image

What would happen if bin Laden wasn't there and innocent people were slaughtered?

Obama took off his imaginary peacenik toga, put on his commander in chief uniform, and gave the green light. The operation was a success. bin Laden was killed and Obama strengthened his image as a tough president. Not in the least on the home front.

The Arab Spring took Obama by surprise. He didn't really know how to act. Should he support the uprisings and thereby risk a transformation of the area that put it beyond US control and sacrificed important allies like Egypt?

When the Arab Spring reached Libya, Gaddafi responded by shooting at his own people. The world cried for intervention. Obama balked. In the end he agreed to a no fly zone conditional on other countries joining in and sharing the costs.

When the French and the Brits carried out the first attacks against Gaddafi's forces, it was even more obvious that the US sat in the backseat. But just as much because Obama wanted to avoid new terrorist acts by too much sabre rattling. In practice it'd have been impossible to overthrow Gaddafi without the US.

Obama the presidential candidate postured himself not only as a dove but also as a great democrat and a symbol for civil and human rights. He was very critical of the extensive surveillance of US citizens that Bush had secretly approved in the wake of 9/11.

Defending surveillance

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know that NSA surveillance has been extended during Obama's tenure. What did the president do when he found out? Did he apologise? Ask for forgiveness?

No. He did the opposite.

Obama defended the right of the US to carry out surveillance not only on citizens of the US, but also on citizens of any country. And there's more - he hunted the whistleblower Edward Snowden halfway around the world. Obama's brought charges against more whistleblowers than any other president. He's made many of his supporters very disappointed.

These days president Obama will have to make one of his most difficult decisions ever. Should he attack Syria? After a lot of deliberation, he says he's ready to give the green light for a limited attack without ground troops. But because the US will stand alone, he wants the backing of congress. Then he'll not get all the blame if things screw up.

Obama painted himself into a corner by drawing that 'red line' a year ago regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria. If he doesn't attack, people can think he doesn't dare. If he doesn't dare punish Syria, can he still convince Iran that he means business when he tells them he won't tolerate nuclear weapons?

And if he does attack, he can get swept up in a bloody civil war.

The NSA scandal and the Syrian crisis indicate that reality has finally caught up with Obama.

The thought that a POTUS in office should never use violence is almost an oxymoron. No one can lead the world's only superpower whilst not ever pulling the trigger - empirical evidence tells us so.

For if you have that much power, you're forced or tempted to use it.

Still behind bars

Obama, it turns out, isn't any different from any POTUS. And he certainly isn't the heroic saviour so many people thought him to be.

Obama's shown us that he doesn't let himself get easily drawn into war. He gives a lot of thought to his decisions. But idealist and president are two incompatible roles. And things are even more difficult with all that moralistic hype.

By the bye: it's been over four years since Obama promised to close Guantánamo. But Guantánamo's still there. And so are over 100 prisoners, held without charge.

The above, written in Swedish by Wolfgang Hansson for Aftonbladet, is the only even mildly critical piece on Obama in Swedish media on the day of Obama's arrival in Stockholm. It may not be the best article ever written on this POTUS, but it's the only one in all of Sweden with any contention for merit.

Obama is currently holding a press conference in Stockholm with Fredrik Reinfeldt on the crisis in Syria and other topics. Sadly Reinfeldt doesn't come across with international charisma, but more importantly: Obama's studied relaxed approach to exalting war as a road to peace is growing thin. Bloomberg called it immediately: Obama's replies are 'TL;DR'. It might be the jet lag, or perhaps it's the havregrynsgröt. There's never an excuse for war.

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