President Obama gave a fine speech in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. He made the crucial and sensible point that in this actual, fallen world, keeping peace requires strength, and restoring peace sometimes requires war. He said, rightly, that "The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. ... We have done so out of enlightened self-interest."
I was particularly glad to hear his forthright declaration that we must fight war within the civilized code of treaties and conventions that make war less horrible. One of the things that grieved me most about the previous administration was how casually and ruthlessly it threw away America's moral rules and moral standing to get what it wanted. President Obama proclaims the crucial ethical insight of the whole Niebuhrian tradition: "And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war."
Especially when we confront a vicious, ruthless adversary, it is most important that we not become vicious and ruthless ourselves.
Some commentators to the left of me have thought there was some irony or inherent conflict in giving a peace prize to a president waging war. I think this is a soft-headed notion.
What really bothers me about the "irony of a peace prize for a war president" line is that I believe they don't really believe it themselves. The reporters asking this question know better. They are reaching for an easy dig, a sophomoric "paradox." This kind of deception has real costs. It is why people find smart liberals in general, and the press in particular, arrogant and not worthy of trust.
I believe it is a settled centrist point: peace requires a strong, forceful, and sometimes violent defense, or there will be no peace.