What Obama Should Say About Peace in Oslo

When the shocking news was announced that President Obama would receive a Nobel Peace Prize, many pundits across the political spectrum were understandably critical of awarding the world's most prestigious honor to a president who had just assumed office. Some on the left were more opposed to giving a peace prize to a president waging two wars.

How Obama will address the first question when he accepts the award in Oslo on Thursday will have to be left to smarter speechwriters than I. The second question is even more prominent now that Obama just announced his intention to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

He must confront the apparent paradox head-on, and early reports suggest he will. Laying out the case that defeating the Taliban and chasing Al-Qaeda is necessary to protect the U.S. from the threat of up to several thousand casualties in another terrorist attack, as he did in his speech at West Point, is not the way to go about this. After all, far more lives may be lost in the next 18 months in Afghanistan than Al-Qaeda is likely to take.

Rather, Obama should emphasize the argument that the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan are in the interest of not just global peace, but peace for Afghanistan itself. Something the Afghanistan War's opponents have generally neglected to consider is that Afghanistan was not a country at peace prior to the U.S. invasion -- and I'm not even talking about the Taliban's brutal, backwards policies, which one could argue are antithetical to peace on their own terms.

The Taliban's grip on power was tenuous, varied by region, and was constantly leading to armed conflict with their domestic opponents. By most definitions Afghanistan was embroiled in a civil war from 1988, when the Soviet Union withdrew, to 2001 when the U.S. invaded. Some estimates peg the bloodshed at 400,000 dead as a result. 

It has long been a bi-partisan principle, dating back to FDR and Harry Truman, more recently enforced by the first President Bush in Kuwait and President Clinton in the Balkans, that the U.S. and its allies, while they will not serve as a global police force, will intervene in situations where they can actually bring on-going conflicts that may threaten global peace to an end.  Generally Western Europe has supported those endeavors, and while President Bush did his best to sever that mutual understanding, Obama should seize this opportunity to revive it.