Stephen M. Walt

How about we just ignore Obama’s Nobel Prize speech?

Instead of spending a lot of time parsing Obama’s latest speech — to no one’s surprise, it was thoughtful, self-effacing, nuanced, balanced, eloquent, lucid, well-delivered, etc. etc. (yawn) — I suggest we focus our attention henceforth on what he actually does. And if you want a good idea of how deep a hole he’s dug ...

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate, US President Barack Obama sits during the Nobel Peace prize award ceremony at the City Hall in Oslo on December 10, 2009. The president faces a tricky task of reconciling the revered honor with his decision just last week to send 30,000 troops to escalate the war in Afghanistan, a move which tripled the US force there since he took office. AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Instead of spending a lot of time parsing Obama’s latest speech — to no one’s surprise, it was thoughtful, self-effacing, nuanced, balanced, eloquent, lucid, well-delivered, etc. etc. (yawn) — I suggest we focus our attention henceforth on what he actually does.

And if you want a good idea of how deep a hole he’s dug himself in the war he defended (Afghanistan), please take note of General David Petraeus’s warning to Congress that “it is going to be years before [the Afghan government] can handle the bulk of the security tasks and allow the bulk of our troopers to redeploy,” and that “achieving progress in Afghanistan will be hard, and the progress there will likely be slower in developing than was the progress in Iraq.”  

One reason, as Petraeus’s statements make clear, is that the U.S. strategy is still predicated on the goal of creating an efficient centralized state in Afghanistan, one that can field 400,000 well-trained and reliable troops and security forces, even though this goal is at odds with Afghanistan’s political traditions and takes little account of the considerable ethnic divisions within the country. It’s like trying to build a pyramid with marbles, and about as likely to succeed.

And then read the recent account by veteran journalist Nir Rosen, who has spent a lot of time in Pakistan and Afghanistan and provides a scathing assessment of our prospects. Makes me wonder if we will one day regard Obama’s award the same way one might look upon previous winners such as Theodore Roosevelt (whose “mediation” of the Russo-Japanese War paved the way for Japan’s brutal colonization of Korea) or Frank B. Kellogg (co-author of the utopian Kellogg-Briand Pact), not to mention Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger.

OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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