Fighting for peace

It’s not too late for President Barack Obama to end this nonsense in Afghanistan

Keeping up with President Barack Obama is like sparring with Muhammad Ali back in his prime. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The world has been caught off balance, mesmerized by fancy footwork and glib talk. How else to explain the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision earlier this month to award the coveted peace prize to a leader who’s been in the ring barely nine months?

It certainly can’t be for promoting world peace. One merely need peruse the latest news from Afghanistan, where the United States maintains a brutal occupation, to determine that. Nevertheless, the perception of the president as peacemaker persists.

Obama first gained such recognition in 2002, after speaking at an anti-war rally in Chicago. He came out swinging, at the very hour Congress was passing the Iraq War Resolution. “I don’t oppose all wars,” he told the partisan crowd. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war.”

It should be noted that at the time Obama was only an Illinois state senator. Later, he dedicated but one sentence to the Iraq war in his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. After he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, he voted to continue funding the “dumb war” every chance he was given.

Pure political pragmatism. The kid learned fast. Like failed presidential candidate John Kerry, Obama was against the war before he was for it, except in his case, it happened to be literally true.

Through this narrow opening, the freshman senator from Illinois thrust himself into the national ring. Moderate Democrats, most of whom were opposed to the Iraq war, immediately became enamored and made Obama their No. 1 contender for the 2008 presidential nomination. The “O” in Obama’s last name morphed into a peace sign printed on countless T-shirts and bumper stickers. He became a synonym for peace.

Blessed with superior hand and foot speed, Obama proved to be particularly adroit at political bobbing and weaving. In October 2007, after Sen. Hillary Clinton voted for a resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group, Obama compared it to her 2002 vote for the Iraq War Resolution, which he would have voted against had he been a U.S. senator at the time. Similarly, he would have voted against the Revolutionary Guard resolution, had he not been out on the campaign trail that day.

I’ll admit his unorthodox style had even me flummoxed at first. There seemed to be a genuine distinction between Obama and contenders such as Clinton and Sen. John Edwards. He was for peace, at least a little bit; they weren’t. In the debate preceding the California Democratic primary, he once again jabbed at Clinton’s Iraq War Resolution vote as if it was a nasty gash above her right eye. I would have voted for him in primary, if I hadn’t voted for U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the only legitimate anti-war candidate running among the Democrats.

By the time Obama had sewn up the Democratic nomination, the peace signs had faded from the scene. As they are wont to do in national elections, the Democrats cut straight down the middle. Thank God for Sarah Palin. If Sen. John McCain had picked a running mate with some intellectual punching power, say, Sen. Joe Lieberman, it might have been a close contest. As it turned out, Obama easily won the championship bout.

That was a year ago this week, and today, despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama finds himself on the ropes. Shortly before the prize was announced, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sucker-punched the president in public, warning that we risk defeat if we don’t increase our military presence there by 40,000 troops.

Obama has effectively cornered himself by dubbing the conflict in Afghanistan the “right war.” It’s anything but. The threat posed by Al Qaeda in the region has long since been eradicated. The Taliban cannot militarily threaten the United States. In short, the conflict in Afghanistan meets all the criteria Obama used back in 2002, when he first deemed the pending invasion of Iraq as the “wrong war.”

Not that I’m expecting Obama to start fighting for peace. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Web site lists some 500 promises the president made during the campaign; “peace on earth” is not among them.

Still, I don’t compare Obama to Muhammad Ali lightly. Few public figures possess the presence of Ali, especially within the Muslim world, and Obama is one of them. I haven’t given up all hope that the president might bounce back off the ropes and surprise us all, just like a certain fighter did in Zaire back in 1974. So what if the president earned the Nobel Peace Prize just for being Barack Obama? Now all he has to do is be himself, and come out swinging.