Oct. 6, 2016 7:16 p.m. ET
Seven years ago this week the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Barack Obama. The decision was greeted with ridicule in the U.S., and it unsettled even supporters of the president, who hadn’t finished his first year in office. Still Mr. Obama flew to Oslo and delivered one of his trademark speeches. The philosopher-president was the toast of Europe.
Mr. Obama today almost never mentions the prize, and the Nobel Committee’s former secretary has expressed regret over the choice. Barack Obama the Nobelist is a bad memory among Europeans, who face more pressing concerns, chief among them a Syrian civil war that has flooded the Continent with more than a million refugees.
Yet this Nobel indigestion is unfair to Mr. Obama. On its own terms his prize has been a resounding success. Seven years later the president has achieved the future-tense victories first celebrated in Oslo.
The committee that awarded the prize hoped for an America that would no longer play the hegemon. The Norwegians wanted a U.S. president who would “strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” as the Nobel citation put it. A leader who would emphasize “the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play,” whose decisions would track the “attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”
This was the heyday of transnationalism, the philosophy that says all states—strong or weak, free or unfree—must submit to “norms” drawn up by law professors and global organizations such as the U.N. and European Union. The transnationalist view can’t tolerate an exceptional nation that imposes its will on others, even with the best intentions.
People walk on the rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held area of al-Kalaseh in Aleppo on 29 September Reuters
Mr. Obama was (and remains) a committed transnationalist, and he staffed his foreign-policy team with like-minded thinkers such as the journalist Samantha Power, the Yale Law School dean Harold Koh and the Princeton scholar Anne-Marie Slaughter. At his Nobel lecture in Oslo, Mr. Obama declared: “I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.”
Both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry delivered miserably poor performances as U.S. Secretaries of State in the Obama Administration…
The real-world results are a different matter. They are on display in Aleppo, where the Bashar Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian patrons are close to bringing to heel Syria’s last non-Islamic State opposition stronghold. Syrian forces shell houses and drop shrapnel-packed barrels on what remains of the city’s civilian buildings. Vladimir Putin’s pilots stalk the skies, setting women and children alight with incendiary ordnance.
In Oslo in 2009, Mr. Obama said of situations like the one unfolding in Syria: “Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later.” How costly?
During Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, Republican Gov. Mike Pence spoke of creating no-fly zones to protect civilians while Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine floated a “humanitarian zone” in Aleppo. The trouble is that the Kremlin this week deployed the SA-23 Gladiator anti-air system to Syria for the first time. The SA-23 can take down aircraft as well as missiles. It is an insurance policy for the Assad regime that will raise the stakes in any future U.S. military action.
With his endless patience for rogues, in other words, Mr. Obama has tied the hands of his successor. Set aside the human misery in Syria. Set aside, too, the destabilizing effects of millions of refugees on Syria’s neighboring states and Europe. The expansion of Russian and Iranian influence in the Middle East represents a long-term strategic setback for the West.
Mr. Putin’s pilots are also increasingly menacing European homelands, with the French Defense Ministry revealing Wednesday that Russian military aircraft last month skirted the airspaces of France, Norway, Spain and the U.K., forcing all four countries to scramble jets. This, too, is the fruit of the humbler Washington the Europeans wished for in 2009.
Tu-160 Blackjack bombers flying toward northern Scotland on the morning of September 22.
Two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack bombers flew toward Scotland on the morning of September 22 — CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES
One question that lingers seven years later: What did the Nobel Committee imagine would follow when America assumed an unexceptional role on the world stage? In the U.S., some thought American retrenchment might spur Europeans to finally take responsibility for securing the Continent’s peripheries. This wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, but it proved wrong. Europeans remain as parochial as ever.
The Nobel Committee, and the intellectual class whose preferences it reflected, had loftier ideas. In 2009 they thought that, without U.S. “unilateralism,” the world could settle enmity and evil the same way the EU resolves disputes over agricultural subsidies. This was when EU boosters like the historian Tony Judt still wrote of the 21st century as a European century—when the rest of the world would embrace the European way of dialogue.
Seven years later the Europeans can barely solve their subsidy disputes, and the Continent has had quite enough of the philosopher-president.
Mr. Ahmari is a Journal editorial writer based in London.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Roiuhani
Obama Legacy Includes The Anti-U.S. Unity Between Russia, China and Iran
China and Russia held joint military exercises in the Pacific Ocean in 2014 and then in the South China Sea in September 2016.
Secretary of State John Kerry (right,) with his man-crush Iranian diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif. Photo by Getty Images
John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in 2013. AP photo
At this time last year, U.S. Secretary of State john Kerry was still in love with diplomacy in general and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov particular. Kerry did not yet realize that he was playing poker with the mass murders of Moscow. He realized too late — and after too many senseless deaths in Syria. Photo: John Kerry and Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, on Sunday Sept. 27, 2015. Credit Dominick Reuter, Agence France-Presse, Getty Image
Those were the days…
Peace and Freedom Note: During the last ceasefire, a humanitarian aid truck convoy was bombed and destroyed. The U.S. blamed Russia and its Syrian allies. But Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov rejected those claims, which finally sapped all the misplaced trust U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had for Mr. Lavrov….
Syria — Destroyed aid trucks stand near the rebel-held town of Urum al-Kubra. September 20, 2016. The US, UK and France said Russia bombed the humanitarian aid convoy. Russia denied the charge. Reuters
“All we could see was a child’s feet.” — Members of the Syrian Civil Defense group recovered a body after airstrikes on Saturday in the contested city of Aleppo. More than 90 people died on Friday, and more than 100 on Saturday.Credit Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, via Associated Press.
Kerry and Lavrov pose for a photo at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York, on Sept 23, 2016. PHOTO by REUTERS
Tags: Aleppo, asylum-seekers, Barack Obama, Bashar Assad, Britain, chemical weapons, China, Daesh, destabilizing effects of millions of refugees, European Union, France, globalization, Hillary Clinton, incendiary weapons, Iran, Iranian Fighters, ISIL, ISIS, Islamic state, John Kerry, migrants, Nobel Committee, Nobel Peace Prize, Norway, Peace Prize, Philippines, refugees, Russian air force, Russian bombers, Russian bombers overfly Europe, Russian military aircraft, SA-23 Gladiator anti-air missiles, Samantha Power, South China Sea, Spain, Syrian civil war that has flooded the Continent with more than a million refugees, transnationalism, transnationalists, U.S. foreign policy, UK, unilateralism, United Nations, Vietnam