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The Jujitsu of Obama’s Nobel Speech

It seems to me that one major political benefit of Obama giving a challenging speech about the war in Afghanistan--and discoursing on the nature of war in general--during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Wednesday was that it derailed any focus on atomic arms. Had Obama not shaped his speech like he did, the press would likely be carping about the fact that, while the Nobel committee awarded Obama the prize primarily because of his "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons"; he has in fact not delivered on any nuclear-weapons issues. The "New START" treaty negotiations with Russia have blown their deadline; the proposed nuclear deal with Iran has been a total flop; the Nuclear Posture Review will likely reject the type of deep arms cuts that would add substance to the president's call for a world without nukes; and North Korea… wait… what's North Korea?

Had his speech been a generic paean to international cooperation, the media narrative might have gone something like this: It's the end of the year, and what has Obama done when it comes to the issue at hand, nukes? He's all promises, all international celebrity, no delivery. In other words, the speech would have magnified the narrative about the president that had been building up for the past few months.

Instead, Obama deftly turned the agony of his deliberations over Afghanistan into a source of political strength. He hit the media with something unexpected: A new, more militant Obama, with recalibrated foreign policy positions, who's willing to talk up war before an audience of professional peace-promoters, and willing to say openly that he supports Iran's democracy protestors (although, of course, there's no downside to doing that now that a nuclear deal is off the table). Now, the big story is that Obama is rising from the ashes. He's learned from some of his failures. Perhaps he's entered a new phase of his presidency.

All in all, it’s a far better storyline for the White House going into the holiday season.