Obama with Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn JaglandThere may be no more pungent example of Barack Obama not being able to win for losing than his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in Copenhagen. Conservatives are criticizing him for being more interested in accolades than doubling down at home while liberals are criticizing him for this particular accolade only days after committing another 30,000 troops to an unwinnable war in Afghanistan.
I'm not in either camp, but what gives me a Royal Swedish Academy case of the ass is that the president invoked the Just War theory in defending the U.S. not merely remaining in Afghanistan eight years after the post-9/11 invasion but escalating the conflict.
That theory (see sidebar below) dates back to the moral theologian St. Augustine, who argued that war can be just if it is a last resort, waged in self-defense, relies on a proportional response to a grave threat, and spares civilians from violence.
Under the most benign interpretation of that calculus, Obama is batting 1 for 4. The war was a first resort in 2001, the self-defense argument is threadbare after lo these many years, and civilians not only are not being spared from violence, they are taking the brunt of it. Even the proportionate response parameter is shaky because there never have been enough troops and an additional 30,000 and a few more crumbs from NATO countries will be a pimple on the ass of that vast, rugged and ungovernable country.
Obama did acknowledge the uproar surrounding the prize.
"I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated," he said in his acceptance remarks. "In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize -- Schweitzer and King, Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight."
There is no question that awarding the prize to a president who had been in office less than a year is a gesture of goodwill and implicit in that gesture is the profound hope that there will be peace in his time.
Obama had no choice but to put lipstick on the Afghan war pig. As a man who seems incapable of giving a bad speech no matter the subject, he did a decent job and certainly disappointed the right-wing boobs who insist he keeps apologizing for America. While he was forceful, he also kept it humble (invoking Martin Luther King's name six times) without pouring on a bunch of booshwah about moral authority. But it is a lead-pipe cinch that there will be no peace in South Asia any time soon.Top photograph by Getty Images