Monday, October 12, 2009

"But We're In Two Wars...."

I think Ross Douthat should write a book... perhaps he could call it "The Politics of Resentment in the Post-GW World". He seems to come just short of complaining, "But GW got us into two intractable wars and he didn't get a Nobel Peace Price. Did I mention that it's a stupid, stinky prize anyway?" And of course, there's this:
People have argued that you can’t turn down a Nobel. Please. Of course you can. Obama is a gifted rhetorician with world-class speechwriters. All he would have needed was a simple, graceful statement emphasizing the impossibility of accepting such an honor during his first year in office, with America’s armed forces still deep in two unfinished wars.
Now you'll forgive me, as I did not follow Douthat's blog, but I somehow don't think that Douthat spent the years of Bush's Presidency arguing that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were contrary to the larger goal of peace. I'll grant, when Douthat was seven or eight he learned that "peace is the opposite of war", but surely he has come to realize that advancing peace doesn't always mean ending a war (and sometimes it can mean starting or joining one). I'll also grant that GW's concept of preemptive war is scarcely more mature than Douthat's notions of peace, but it's difficult to believe Douthat missed the associated debate.

For that matter, did Douthat whine that Mother Teresa hadn't stopped any wars when she won the Nobel Peace Prize? When he lists various activists, courageous though they may be, whom he believes are deserving of being insulted with this irrelevant honor, who among them can he actually say has stopped a war?1

The funny part? Had the nod gone to GW, Douthat's friends would be trumpeting it as a vindication of his wars, his "with us or against us" brand of diplomacy, and his rejection of "old Europe".2 Not that I want to overuse the term "platitudinous", but...
If Obama goes from strength to strength, then this travesty3 will be remembered as a footnote to his administration, rather than a defining moment.
Figured that out all by yourself, didja?
Now he’s the Nobel laureate who has to choose between escalating a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan or ceding ground to a theocratic mafia. He’s the Nobel laureate who’ll either have to authorize military strikes against Iran or construct an effective, cold-war-style deterrence system for the Middle East. He’s the Nobel laureate who’ll probably fail, like every U.S. president before him, to prod Israelis and Palestinians toward a comprehensive settlement.
Echoes of "math is hard". Yes, Ross, it's easier to start conflicts and to perpetuate conflicts than it is to end them. That's kind of the point. With all of Douthat's talk of "bravery", turning down the award would have been easy.4 Living up to it ? That's a challenge.
1. The standard Douthat seems to be setting for Obama appears to be slightly higher than that set for any prior Nobel Peace Prize laureate, verging on a requirement that Obama end all of the world's armed conflicts.

2. Instead, while presented as an example of how "critics will dismiss his presidency", Douthat brands Obama's predecessor as "Dubya the Incompetent". I've heard the term "incompetent" associated with GW, and I think he was one of the least competent Presidents of modern history; but I've not heard anybody but Douthat use the label "Bush the Incompetent", let alone suggest that it's as resonant as "Slick Willie" or "Tricky Dick". Perhaps Douthat should be pushing a better brand. "Bush The Decider"? "Bush the Misunderestimated"?

3. "Travesty"? I hereby award Douthat the "Drama Queen of the Day" Award. I wonder if he'll try to make the case that he hasn't earned it, and shock me by bravely declining the honor.

4. To me, walking away from the Peace Prize for the reasons Douthat proposes - the possibility of being made fun of by successors to John McCain as a celebrity, or by SNL for not having accomplished his entire agenda in nine months - would at best be shallow, at worst cowardly. Brave? Hardly.

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