I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the world feeling a little miffed as President Barack Obama accepted an undeserved Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday, just nine days after committing 30,000 more U.S. troops to a hopeless war in Afghanistan. While Obama cited accomplishments like the closing down of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the bulk of his acceptance speech was a ringing defense of the necessity of waging “just” wars. And for Obama, Afghanistan is one of those wars.
The hawkish nature of Obama’s speech was shocking. What happened to the man who opposed the troop surge in Iraq? What happened to the man who promised a foreign policy that was markedly different from his predecessor? When I look back on President George W. Bush and compare him with Obama, I see two imperialist presidents who fought two interventionist wars.
I realize that at this point, most of you are probably turning against me. “You can’t compare the two wars,” you say. “We had good reasons to go to war with Afghanistan — reasons that didn’t exist in Iraq.” Such is Obama’s argument — we will fight the war in Afghanistan because it’s justified. But justified or not, isn’t a more important question whether or not we will win? This is where Obama’s speech misses the mark.
The problem with the war in Afghanistan — and with foreign wars in general — is that it isn’t an effective way of achieving our goals. Ousting their leaders and bombing their cities doesn’t win us the support of foreign peoples, no matter how bad their situations may be. The best thing that the United States can do is to leave the rest of the world alone.
There is no better example of this than America’s wars in the Middle East, which have demonstrated that foreign peoples don’t want the U.S. to help. They have come to hate U.S. occupational forces just as much as their own corrupt regimes. In Iraq, for example, polls consistently found that a vast majority of Iraqi people wanted the United States out. By trying to solve their problems for them, we cheat oppressed people of the sense of victory they desperately need to rebuild their countries on their own.
Aside from war, Obama mentioned economic sanctions against hostile countries as another foreign policy tool. Specifically, he said, “Sanctions must exact a real price.” Unfortunately, sanctions do exact a real price — but they don’t punish the leader of a country. Dictators like Kim Jong Il of North Korea don’t suffer from sanctions. They benefit from them. The oppressed people of these countries grow to hate the prosperous nations that are denying them trade and decreasing their standard of living. The dictators then feed off this hatred to stay in power.
And while Obama may be entirely oblivious to this point since his foreign policy continues to mimic Bush’s, the American people aren’t quite so pro-war. Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of Americans thought the United States should “mind its own business,” the highest number in 40 years, according to MSNBC. So maybe even if Obama doesn’t understand that we can’t defeat our enemies by occupying their countries or starving their people, the American people are realizing that peace will be best achieved when our government is least involved.
This doesn’t mean that the civilized world should have nothing to do with the Middle East. But it is through free trade, not war and sanctions, that the United States and its allies will defeat authoritarian regimes, spread world peace and improve standards of living. By interacting with these people for mutual economic benefit, they will be exposed to positive ideals like social and political freedom. And when these ideas become popular enough, they will cast off their overlords on their own.
We can’t win that battle for them. No amount of direct intervention — just or unjust — will solve the issues of the Middle East. But since pulling out and letting the region solve its own problems doesn’t win you a Nobel Peace Prize these days, I won’t expect Obama to follow such advice.
—Robert Soave is the Daily’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.