President Obama's speech today accepting the Nobel Peace Prize confirmed his transformation from dove into liberal warrior. For all his undoubted abilities to win friends and influence people, Obama faced an improbable task today: explaining to Europeans, who have experienced centuries of warfare and want no more of it, why the recipient of the peace prize is going off to war. Obama maintained that peace can depend upon war, which he did by invoking just war theory (itself a European export to the rest of the globe) and the somewhat tattered banner of humanitarian warfare. He may never have shouted invictus to his audience, but his basic message was that the liberal West can prevail in the struggle against intolerance and malignity abroad.
Obama's rhetorical strategy was shrewd. He didn't promise to have all the answers. Instead, as is his penchant, he deprecated his own accomplishments -- "slight" -- holding out the promise of bigger and better things in the future. But like a doctor promising renewed health through surgery, he indicated that to get there will require some painful measures.
But will high theory produce actual results in the barren landscape of Afghanistan, denuded by successive waves of invaders and barbaric regimes? Obama may invoke just war theory justly, but whether peace and justice and prevail is another matter. The Nobel Prize speech could prove the high-water mark of his presidency should the Afghan venture go belly-up.
For now, Obama, as a new New York Times/CBS News poll indicates, cannot rely on Democrats for much support on Afghanistan. Instead, it's Republicans who are backing him up. But absent real progress, this cannot last. Democrats will abandon the effort within the next year should Obama be unable to show any signs of real progress, not to mention his NATO allies, who are already loath to increase their troop commitments.
This is not the presidency that Obama envisioned when he began campaigning for office. He promised to change America. But so far he is the one who has changed the most. His Oslo speech is thus the latest installment in the education of Barack Obama.