Four years ago Dec. 10, President Barack Obama traveled to Oslo, Norway, to accept a Nobel Peace Prize he’d done very little to earn except for not being George W. Bush, which was good enough for the prize committee.
Four years on, Mr. Obama has burnished his peacemaker’s credentials in ways that might not be Nobel-worthy, but surely have made the world a safer place.
— In 2010, his administration negotiated a replacement for the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with Russia. Each nation agreed to limit its nuclear stockpiles to 1,550 over seven years, a 30 percent reduction. Each nation will reduce long-range missiles and launchers to 700.
— He finally extricated U.S. forces from Iraq and began the long — too long, in our view — process of bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. All except a residual force were scheduled be home a year from now, but Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai may want to accelerate the schedule.
— Taking advantage of Secretary of State John Kerry‘s slip of the tongue in September, Mr. Obama seized an opening from Russian President Vladimir Putin that has resulted in the ongoing destruction, under U.N. auspices, of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
— Mr. Obama saw another opening in March, created by the approach of Iran’s presidential election. The volatile Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was on his way out, and Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, was on his way in. A back-channel diplomatic effort was opened, followed by a public channel after the election in June. The efforts culminated Sunday with the signing of a six-month stand-down of Iran’s nuclear program.
Does Mr. Obama deserve all the credit for these initiatives? Of course not. But it’s clear that his willingness to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself was important to all of them.
The key to the Syria deal was Mr. Putin, who has long been the enabler of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The key to the Iranian deal was Mr. Rouhani, who had the tacit support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Both men’s hands were forced by ongoing international sanctions of Iran.
Mr. Obama appears to understand the adage that there’s no limit to what someone can accomplish if he doesn’t care who gets the credit. It was he who appointed Mr. Kerry as secretary of state, understanding that an iron will and a willingness to talk at great length sometimes are useful assets.
The agreement signed with Iran and other states last Sunday in Geneva will not halt the Iranian nuclear program. But it buys six months to reach a broader agreement even as it allows Iran access to assets and banking networks frozen by Western nations.
The deal introduced the world to a new term, “dash-time.” That’s defined as how long it would take a nation to extend the peaceful development of nuclear capabilities to military capabilities. Iran’s dash-time is now longer, and that can be nothing but good.
Naturally there were critics. We’ve noted before that Mr. Obama couldn’t announce a cure for cancer without someone whining, “What about heart disease?”
This time the prize for stupidest criticism went to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who tweeted”Amazing what WH (White House) will do to distract attention from O-care (Obamacare).”
Peace in the Middle East a distraction? Bringing what Mr. Bush called a “rogue state”back to reasonable discourse? Learning to talk with a nation whose fingerprints are all over Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq? This is a distraction? Republicans like Mr. Cornyn are bidding fair to make their entire party a distraction.
Then there was Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who for domestic political reasons felt compelled to suggest that further sanctions might be needed.
As always there was the redoubtable Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s hawkish prime minister, who called the Iran deal a “historic mistake.” Mr. Netanyahu, for obvious reasons, had been left out of the private discussions, being presented with a done deal that he felt obliged to hate.
In the light of history, Israel’s misgivings are understandable. But if the world is to get past its history, it must look forward.
“(W)e cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems,” Mr. Obama said Monday. In words that could have been directed at Mssrs. Cornyn, Schumer and Netanyahu, he added, “Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.”
It sounds odd, but among Mr. Obama’s other peace-keeping achievements has been his willingness to use or threaten force — in air-support over Libya, in arming and training Syrian rebels and in prosecuting the war on al-Qaida. We have reservations about tactics — the CIA’s too-broad targeting policies for drone warfare, the NSA’s too-broad electronic surveillance of American citizens — but they too have made America more secure.
In Oslo four years ago, Mr. Obama made the case for war in accepting his premature prize for peace. But he quoted President John F. Kennedy on the necessity of allowing for the possibility of change.
In his June 1963 address at American University in Washington, D.C., perhaps the most important but least-known of his speeches, Mr. Kennedy said, “Let us focus on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”
Mr. Obama echoed that last line, “A gradual evolution in human institutions,” he said. This is evolution we can all believe in.
Republished from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Creators.com.