December 11, 2009 by jamesessj
President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech was, at its start, a remarkably well-executed defense of military action as — let’s all remember our Clausewitz — politics by other means. It was gratifying — shocking, even — to hear someone on the left admit that the American military has had a vital role in keeping the peace over the past 60+ years; and that it continues to do so today. And to go on to state, unequivocally, that there is evil in this world — and that sometimes military force is the only way with which to deal with that evil. The Norwegians, one guesses, were ready to reconsider their selection.
Until, that is, later in the speech, when the the president repeated (for the umpteenth times) his usual complaints about the Bush Administration’s use of “torture” and how America hasn’t always lived up to its highest ideals — as if the French have? The Germans? The Italians? As if the Europeans have even the slenderest thread of moral authority, these folks who couldn’t stand up to genocide in their own back yard, who are afraid to publish cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims, who refuse to do anything much to prevent a nuclear Iran. It’s galling in the extreme to see our president bend over backward to court these people — he’s like (and I know whereof I speak on this one) the teacher who goes into the classroom wanting to be the kids’ friend instead of demanding their respect. Not so much leadership, this, as community organizing; but the world is not a community, whatever some may think. It is a conglomeration of suzerainties and principalities, very few of which will ever do anything outside what they perceive to be their national interest. The United States, I’ve always maintained, is one of the only countries in the world (in history, for that matter) that, in nearly every case, doesn’t look first to its own interests, but rather to the question of what is right — which is why we beat ourselves up over a method of interrogation that every other country in the world, were they facing the same circumstances, wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment before employing, and never once second-guessed.
Still, I don’t wish to carp too stridently about the president’s speech — for Obama to have made the concessions he did marked, perhaps, the beginning of the end of his “wishful thinking” foreign policy. He has had to make a tough decision — sending more troops to Afghanistan — and it could be that in the process he’s discovered that being president is not the same as running for president. The leader of the free world has to make impossible choices, and one of the worst is to send our boys (and, these days, to an extent, our girls) to war…no president ever likes this choice, but every president since Roosevelt has had to make some version of it, great or small. The American military is, though we may wish it weren’t so, the world’s police force. No one else will do the job — someone has to.
I’d like to think that Obama is learning on the job — learning that American power is a good thing, not to be apologized for, not to be embarrassed of, not to be disparaged or denied. We are the world’s superpower; not by default, not by decree, not by acclaim; but by our blood, sweat, toil, and tears. We became the world’s superpower the old-fashioned way: we earned it.