No contradiction: Surges and a Nobel Peace
Obama should not shirk from saying that his upping the war in Afghanistan is, in fact, necessary for promoting peace
Protestors have already made a noise in Oslo as Barack Obama arrives to collect his Premature Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone has been having a field day with the seeming contradiction of his collecting the prize just days after ordering 30,000 additional US troops to go to Afghanistan. Writing before he has made his prize speech, I hope he doesn’t try to make some verbal contortions that he isn’t actually a war-monger, that he really loves peace and that he has seen Woody Harrelson playing The Messenger four times running with tears in his eyes.
Instead he should begin by quoting, at least in spirit, the old Roman saying, “If you wish peace, prepare for war.” Broadly speaking, that is the kind of world that Obama really faces. Oil-rich Norwegians are threatened only by their memories of Swedish colonial rule and salmon diseases. The United States has plenty of enemies and, in some cases, earns their enmity just because it is a sole superpower.
This primary conventional threat the US faces today is China. Not because China is spoiling for a fight, but because its military prepares for a war over Taiwan and the Pentagon, per force, does the same. As one senior member of Obama’s present defence setup once told me, “When a US general wakes up in the morning and wonders if he will have to fight today, there are only four or five countries in the world he has gamed for. And China is one of them.”
If there is any evidence Beijing, especially the People’s Liberation Army brass, would be impressed by flowers in one’s hair I have yet to find it. China is rational when it comes to avoiding arms races. But its leadership are steeped in realpolitik and are famously hard-nosed in their worldview. They take their present cue from the lessons drawn from the warfare-ridden period of the Six Kingdoms, Indian diplomats say.
If they believe the US is pulling in its claws or otherwise reducing its military presence in Asia, they move into the vacuum. And it is exactly this sort of shifting geopolitical ground on which geopoliticians trip â€“ and cause wars. Keeping the peace in the Asia-Pacific requires the US to maintain its present military stance, not reduce it.
When it comes to taking on Al Qaeda or ensuring the Afghanistan-Pakistan area does not collapse into a maelstrom of violence and extremism, peaceniks have even less to offer.
Even if he wishes to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban, Obama will not be able to do so until he blunts their present military momentum. So long as they believe the US is about to leave in a year, the Taliban will continue to believe “the Americans have the clocks, but we have the time.” They need to have their nose bloodied before they will even bother to negotiate seriously.
What Obama’s decision to send troops indicates is that he doesn’t buy the argument that a neo-Taliban government would not continue to host Al Qaeda or even stop terrorist action from its soil. Again, the Peace At All Costs option would amount to unconditional surrender in which the US could not be assured of any change in Taliban policies.
In short, Obama should say that what he is doing – keeping up the US military presence around the world and “surging” its operations in Afghanistan – are the only practical way to maintain or bring about peace. If he was facing Norwegians in the wildlands around Qandahar he could afford to take a risk. But he is fighting an enemy akin to the Norwegians’ medieaval ancestors – the marauding Vikings. And the Vikings never gave an inch unless they were defeated by mightier arms.