The most popular headline at the Real Clear Politics Web site the other day was: “Is Obama Becoming A Joke?” With brilliant comedic timing, the very next morning, the Norwegians gave him the Nobel Peace Prize. Up next: his stunning victory in this year’s Miss World contest. Dec. 12, Johannesburg. You read it here first.
For what, exactly, did he win the Nobel? As the president himself put it:
“When you look at my record, it’s very clear what I have done so far. And that is nothing. Almost one year and nothing to show for it. You don’t believe me? You think I’m making it up? Take a look at this checklist.”
And up popped his record of accomplishment, reassuringly blank.
Oh, no, wait. That wasn’t the real President Obama. That was a comedian playing Mr. Obama on “Saturday Night Live.” And, for impressionable types who find it hard to tell the difference, CNN - in a broadcast first that surely should have its own category at the Emmys - performed an in-depth “reality check” of the SNL sketch. That’s right: CNN fact-checked the jokes. Seriously. “How much truth is behind all the laughs? Stand by for our reality check,” promised Wolf Blitzer, introducing his in-depth report with all the plonking earnestness so cherished by those hapless Americans stuck at Gate 73 for four hours with nothing to watch but the CNN airport channel. Given the network’s ever more exhaustive absence of viewers among the non-flight-delayed demographic, perhaps Mr. Wolf could make it a regular series:
“Who was that lady I saw you with last night?”
“That was no lady, that was my wife.”
“In fact, our sources confirm, his wife is, biologically speaking, a lady. Joining us now is our medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, we all like a joke, but how much truth is behind the laughs?”
Fortunately, the Nobel Committee understands that Mr. Obama’s accomplishments are no laughing matter. So it gave him the Peace Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” I assumed this was a reference to his rip-roaring success in winning the Olympic Games for Rio, but as it turns out, the deadline for Nobel nominations was way back on Feb. 1.
Mr. Obama took office on Jan. 20. Gosh, it’s so long ago now. What “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy” did he make in those first 12 days? Bowing to the Saudi king? Giving the British prime minister the Wal-Mart discount box of “Twenty Classic Movies You’ve Seen a Thousand Times”? “Er, Barack, I’ve already seen these.” “That’s OK. They won’t work in your DVD player anyway.”
For these and other “extraordinary efforts” in “cooperation between peoples,” Mr. Obama is the fastest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in history. Alas, the extraordinary efforts of those first 12 days are already ancient history. Reflecting the new harmony of U.S.-world relations since the administration hit the “reset” button, the Times of London declared the award “preposterous” and Svenska Freds (the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society) called it “shameful.” There’s something almost quaintly vieux chapeau about the Nobel decision, as if the hopey-changey bumper stickers were shipped surface mail to Oslo and only arrived last week. Everywhere else, they’re peeling off: The venerable lefties at Britain’s New Statesman have a cover story on “Barack W Bush.”
Happily, a few Americans still are willing to stand by Mister Saturday Night. “I am shocked at the mean-spirited comments,” wrote Judi Romaine to the Times in protest over all the naysaying. “I’m afraid I’ve registered into a very conversative [sic], fear-based world here but I’d like to suggest the incredible notion we all create our worlds in our conversations. What are you building by maligning rather than creating discourses for workability? Bravo to Obama and others working for people, however it appears to cynics.”
If that’s the language you have to speak when you’re “working for people,” I’d rather work for a cranky mongoose. Yet to people who can use phrases like “creating discourses for workability” with a straight face, Mr. Obama remains a heroic figure. Like Ms. Romaine, he works hard to “create our worlds in our conversations.” Why, only the other day, very conversationally, the administration floated the trial balloon that it could live with the Taliban returning to government in Afghanistan. A lot of Afghans won’t be living with it, but that’s their lookout.
This is - how to put this delicately? - something of a recalibration of Mr. Obama’s previous position. From about a year after the fall of Baghdad, Democrats adopted the line that George W. Bush’s war in Iraq was an unnecessary distraction from the real war, the good war, the one in Afghanistan that everyone - Democrats, Europeans, all the nice people - were right behind, 100 percent. No one butched up for the Khyber Pass more enthusiastically than Mr. Obama: “As president, I will make the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority.” (July 15, 2008).
But that was then, and this is now. As historian Robert Dallek told Mr. Obama recently, “War kills off great reform movements.” As The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne reminded the president, his supporters voted for him not to win a war but to win a victory on health care and other domestic issues. Mr. Obama’s priorities lie not in the Hindu Kush but in America: Why squander your presidency on trying to turn an economically moribund feudal backwater into a functioning nation-state when you can turn a functioning nation-state into an economically moribund feudal backwater?
Gosh, given their many assertions that Afghanistan is “a war we have to win” (Mr. Obama to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, August 2008), you might almost think, pace Ms. Romaine, that it’s the president and water-bearers such as Gunga Dionne who are the cynics. In a recent speech to the Manhattan Institute, Charles Krauthammer pointed out that in diminishing American power abroad to advance statism at home, Mr. Obama and the American people will be choosing decline. There are legitimate questions about our war aims in Afghanistan and about the strategy necessary to achieve them. But eight years after being toppled, the Taliban will see their return to power as a great victory over the Great Satan, and so will the angry young men from Toronto to Yorkshire to Chechnya to Indonesia who graduated from Afghanistan’s Camp Jihad during the 1990s. So will the rest of the world: Everyone will understand that the modern era’s ordnungsmacht (the “order maker”) has chosen decline.
Mr. Obama will have history’s most crowded trophy room, but his presidency is shaping up as a tragedy - for America and the world.
Mark Steyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller “America Alone.”