Now, the Nobel Committee has made a remarkable gamble. It has seen fit to offer Barack Obama, who entered the Oval Office as a war president and soon doubled down the U.S. bet on the expanding conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, an opportunity for a lasting legacy and real achievement of a sort that has long escaped American presidents. Their prize gives him an opportunity to step back and consider the history of American war-making and what the U.S. military is really capable of doing thousands of miles from home. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to face up honestly to the repeatedly demonstrated limits of American military power. It’s also the president’s chance to transform himself from war-maker by inheritance to his own kind of peace-maker, and so display a skill possessed by few previous presidents. He could achieve a more lasting victory, while limiting the blood, American and foreign, on his — and all Americans’ — hands.
More than 100 years after their early counterinsurgency efforts on two tiny islands in the Philippines, U.S. troops are still dying there at the hands of Muslim guerillas. More than 50 years later, the U.S. still garrisons the southern part of the Korean peninsula as a result of a stalemate war and a peace as yet unmade. More recently, the American experience has included outright defeat in Vietnam, failures in Laos and Cambodia; debacles in Lebanon and Somalia; a never-ending four-president-long war in Iraq; and almost a decade of wheel-spinning in Afghanistan without any sign of success, no less victory. What could make the limits of American power any clearer?
The record should be as sobering as it is dismal, while the costs to the peoples in those countries are as appalling as they are unfathomable to Americans. The blood and futility of this American past ought to be apparent to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Obama, even if his predecessors have been incredibly resistant to clear-eyed assessments of American power or the real consequences of U.S. wars.
Two paths stretch out before this first-year president. Two destinations beckon: peace or failure.
“Path of war is a surefire loser”