The committee in Oslo has spoken. Both the critics and the supporters have said their piece. And now that the initial shock and ensuing media frenzy following last Friday’s announcement by the Nobel committee have both dwindled, the newly minted Nobel laureate has to get back to work.
Indeed, with a litany of foreign policy problems including two long wars and the threat of a nuclear-capable Iran, work is not something Mr. Obama is lacking.
It was certainly a surprise that the Norwegian panel would award such an esteemed honor to a first-term, wartime president. Obama himself admitted that he was “surprised and deeply humbled” by their decision. The panel explained their recognition of the president stemmed from his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” and for creating a “new climate in international politics.”
Obama should certainly continue to practice the diplomacy and multilateralism he has demonstrated thus far in his presidency. However, he should not let the decision of five Norwegians shape his choices about strategy in Afghanistan, among other issues. In short, Obama should act primarily as commander in chief and not as Nobel laureate.
As October marks the eight-year anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, Obama and his national security, foreign policy and military advisers are in the midst of a strategic review with emphasis on the role of neighboring Pakistan and the potential for an increased counterterrorism strategy instead of more troops.
When it comes to Afghanistan, Obama’s options are, through no fault of his own, grim. The U.S. Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, recently requested an additional 40,000 troops be deployed to the country. Whether or not Obama fulfills this request, there is simply no easy way out. If he does choose to go through with a policy of escalation in Afghanistan, it may seem to contradict the peacemaking efforts he has just been honored for. However, Obama should make this difficult decision independent of his superimposed pacifist persona.
Critics of the war, and no doubt the committee in Oslo, may have hoped that the award would encourage Obama to end the war promptly and bring supposed peace to Afghanistan. However, it is not clear that it is in anyone’s best interest to do so. The path to a more lasting and sustained peace in Afghanistan will not likely result from a sudden and reckless withdrawal from the unstable nation.
Instead, Obama should strive for long term stablility that may or may not come as a result of an increased military presence in Afghanistan. A comprehensive and deliberative decision-making process, such as the one Obama is currently engaging in with his advisers, will hopefully result in a long-term strategy — something that has been lacking in this war all along.
After eight long years of occupying a nation whose government and military are still far from stable and secure, it seems that more importance should be placed on the state we leave Afghanistan in, rather than when we leave it. If Obama focuses on this, perhaps his Nobel prize will one day be an award of tangible accomplishment rather than one of aspiration.