By Justin Hienz
Speaking in Oslo last week, President Obama was faced with the difficult task of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize while also acknowledging the recent troop increase in Afghanistan. A difficult task, but as Head of State, one the President could not afford to get wrong. With the world watching, President Obama had to exude the American confidence that underscores all our successes.
Opinionated talking heads on the various evening news programs pulled apart the President’s words, looking for meaning, strategy and accuracy. Was his speech the beginning of an Obama doctrine – morally justified conflict in the name of peace? I believe that’s what we call the Machiavelli Doctrine, but that’s not the point.
The President’s words were not the most essential part of his speech in Oslo. It was his presence and demeanor that mattered.
Of course, he had no choice but to attend, lest he insult the institution that honored Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964; as our President said, a man whose teachings and efforts allowed President 44 to become a “living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence.”
This is rhetoric, however true and moving it might be. The real power was his image, and that is what his most effective role has been and should continue to be.
The President is the international face of our country. From time-to-time, a Vice President steps up, perhaps a Secretary of State, toss in a few war-hero generals. But for the most part, America is, for all intents and purposes, the President.
That face can never flinch or falter.
While the leader may change, the office is a static, resolute visage of American supremacy and endurance.
While living in the Middle East, I had an acquaintance who had served in Iraq with the U.S. Army. We spoke on the eve of the 2008 presidential election, and our conversation drifted to a review of President Bush and his overall presence and strategy throughout his two terms. We were of similar minds regarding Bush’s successes and missteps, but my acquaintance concluded our discussion with a powerful insight. He told me:
“I’ll say one thing for him. The world knows and will remember that when we say we will do something, you better believe we’re gonna do it.”
Well put! For all his frat boy charm and sometimes cryptic battles with Congress, President Bush did strengthen one essential part of the American image – we mean business. Our threats are not empty.
This is not something new. Due credit to the former President for continuing it, but American seriousness of purpose and action on words is a longstanding element in our history. Given this track record, it is essential that the face of our nation (i.e., the President) be neither apologetic nor rude, neither submissive nor overbearing – only a consistent, firm force immovable but for its own will.
Given our ongoing war against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and political and religious extremists bent on our destruction, our national face must be as firm, fair and determined as it has ever been. In seeing this face, our enemies must immediately and fully understand that we are an unstoppable force no enemy will ever truly stall.
This is what makes our enemies fear us…well, that and our giant guns.
Looking over our history, we need to remember the hardened, resolute face of American leaders so we can cheer it when we see it. And it is our duty as Americans, Republican, Democrat or otherwise, to cheer our Commander in Chief when he presents that face to the world.
We must remember the face of FDR addressing congress in 1942, telling the world that “the mood of quiet, grim resolution which here prevails bodes ill for those who conspired and collaborated to murder world peace.”
Remember the face of Nixon, then Vice President, in the “Kitchen Debate,” standing in the model American home, telling Khrushchev our industrial achievements were the direct result of a strong democracy.
The face of Reagan telling Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
The face of Bush 43, speaking before a joint session in 2001, telling the Taliban to end all terrorist support, and adding: “These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion…[The Taliban] will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.”
And now the face of President Obama, standing proudly and speaking truthfully, that America loves peace and will fight and die to preserve it.
Our leader told the world from Oslo that “the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”
Put another way, there is peace because we are strong, and I applaud our leader and pay him much due respect for furthering the enduring American message that can never waiver. To quote Lyndon Johnson, “This, then, is the state of the union: free and restless, growing and full of hope. So it was in the beginning. So it shall always be, while God is willing, and we are strong enough to keep the faith.”
Let’s hope Osama and his followers were watching.
Justin Hienz is a Senior Account Executive at Adfero Group, working with the firm’s Homeland Security practice. He is also assistant editor of Security Debrief.