By DeWayne Wickham
It is more than just a little bit ironic that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just hours before he met with his war council to consider how many more troops the United States will commit to the 8-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Of the 120 men and women to receive this international honor since 1901, President Obama is one of a handful of heads of state to get it while still in office and the only one awarded that prize while leading his nation in war.
Just two other U.S. presidents received the Peace Prize while in the White House. Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for using his bully pulpit to end conflicts in Europe and Asia. Woodrow Wilson got his in 1919 - just months after the end of World War I - for his role in creating the League of Nations, the body he hoped would prevent future wars.
In 1990, a year after the Soviet Union ended it military occupation of Afghanistan, the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave it to Mikhail Gorbachev for permitting the political changes that ended Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe.
So, understandably, Obama was as humble in acknowledging the committee's action,. "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations," Obama said in a hurried statement from the Rose Garden. I'm sure he knew critics would latch on to the Feb. 1 nomination deadline - when Obama had been president just days - while conveniently forgetting that the vote occurred in October.
But Obama's soft peddling of his honor didn't pacify critics. "I'm not sure what the international community loved best; his waffling on Afghanistan, pulling defense missiles out of Eastern Europe, turning his back on freedom fighters in Honduras, coddling Castro, siding with Palestinians against Israel or almost getting rough on Iran," harped Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C.
How about all of the above? While the decision reeks of irony, the recognition is hardly undeserved. He earned it by deciding to scale down and retool the missile defense system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic. While the Bush administration said it was meant to shield U.S.allies in Europe and the Middle East from Iranian missile attacks, Russia saw it as a U.S. threat in its backyard.
Scrapping that land-based system for one that relies heavily on ship-board missiles makes Russia less jittery - and the world a safer place. Ensuring this nation is on the right path in Afghanistan before sharply increasing the U.S. presence there is not "waffling;" it's good leadership. It sends the right message about the Obama administration's intention to defeat the forces that attacked us on 9/11 and end as quickly as possible a war he inherited from his predecessor.
Increased diplomatic contact with Cuba, recognizing the Honduran president's claim to office after he was ousted by a coup and acknowledging that Israel isn't always right and the Palestinians aren't always wrong is a better road to a more peaceful world than the ones previously taken by other U.S. governments.
The Nobel Peace Prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses," Alfred Nobel said in his will of award he endowed.
By that standard, Barack Obama has done a lot in a short period of time to earn such a lofty honor.