When Irony Is Not Irony

This morning on NPR, Steve Inskeep was interviewing Cokie Roberts. They were discussing the President’s decision to send more troops – and many more civilian aid workers – to Afghanistan. Yesterday, on the morning news shows, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the rounds explaining the policy. At one point in this morning’s show, Inskeep asked Roberts to comment on the "irony" of the President having made the decision to send more troops one week before traveling to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

I fail to see the irony. The U.S. did not disturb the peace in Afghanistan. What existed in Afghanistan under the Taliban before – and what would come to pass should the resurgent Taliban take control again – can be described in many ways but peaceful is not one of them. Their brutal regime had all the humaneness of the Middle Ages, without the beautiful artistic inspirations. And, as the willing host of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban were complicit in the greatest attack on America’s domestic peace since the Civil War.


When NATO, at long last, went into Bosnia to end the murderous regime of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, it was the not the NATO troops who occasioned the war. It was NATO troops that ended the war, a war perpetrated by the Serb nationalist forces on the Muslim population of Bosnia. Sometimes, to end a war you need to send troops. Sometimes troops bring peace.

Similarly, in the wake of World War II, the U.S. military kept a large presence in Western Europe to forestall any land grabs by the Soviet Union. On one side of the Iron Curtain, on our side, nations rebuilt themselves in peace. On the other side, a long, often vicious war upon the civil rights of the citizenry was perpetrated by the Soviet puppet regimes. If Mr. Inskeep had a choice where to live, Frankfurt or Warsaw, which would he have chosen?

There is no "irony" in the Nobel-winning President having made the decision to commit more forces to beat back the Taliban, to establish sufficiently secure conditions on the ground for the aid workers to begin the task of providing options other than jihad to the Afghani population. Inskeep and Roberts are shapers of opinion, important shapers of opinion, and they should mind their words more carefully. You can disagree with the President’s decision for many reasons, but he could not have been more clear in his speech at West Point last week that our involvement in Afghanistan is not the kind of typical Great Power invasion that was rightly seen as a threat to peace. Sometimes, where there is no peace, it takes an outside military force to impose it. That was true in Bosnia. It may be true in Afghanistan – we can only hope. The President should not shy away from the topic in his speech in Oslo on Thursday.

We all pray for a time when the ways of peacefulness will not need to be renewed every day or defended by force of arms. That time we Christians normally call the Second Coming. We aren’t there yet and in the meantime, in a world filled with mean actors, sometimes we must send in the troops.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Kevin Jam
8 years 10 months ago
I believe some carification is needed here. I also listened to the story on NPR, but didn't understand it the same way. In fact, I did not hear Steve Inskeep or Cokie Roberts use the word "irony" at all. What Mr. Inskeep said was: "Is it awkward at all, Cokie Robets, that the president one week escalates the war in Afghanistan and the next week goes off to accept the nobel peace prize?" To which Ms. Roberts replies "Well, I suspect he'll have to at least subtly address that, uh, but at least it is a bright moment for him in the middle of all the rest of this...I think his children won't be the only ones who are happy when Christmas comes this year." That certainly seems to be a legitimate question (while not ironic, it certainly does seem a bit awkward to be recieving a peace award when you are sending 30,000 more troops to war; an assessment I think the president might actually agree with), to which Ms. Roberts provided a fairly adequate response, one that really doesn't hint at "irony" at him winning the award, but rather at a moment the president can enjoy in the midst of a weighty foreign and domestic agenda. Opinion's about whether NPR commentators should "mind their words more carefully" aside, in this listener's opinion, NPR seems more mindful of their responsiblity toward public opinion than they are given credit for here. I guess I fail to see the irony too, though for different reasons.
8 years 10 months ago
The irony is the fact that a noble peace prize winner is now ESCALATING A WAR that is punitive in nature.  Never mind the fact that he is using drones to attack and kill thousands - often civilians.
The attacks of 9-11 occured 8 years ago and the actors are no longer in the region (i.e. there are LESS than 100 al qaeda in Afganistan).
Also, since there is just war doctrine - and pre-emptive war does not count - there should be a bit more hesitance to declear wars as "just" on the criteria of "going after bad actors."
Violence to stop violence is not ironic?
Liberal progressivism (ends justifiy means) and love of this president has obviously warped the Catholic thought of this magazine which seems more and more justifies war and sin (i.e. homosexuality) in the name of progress...
8 years 10 months ago
Yes..Violence is the problem. The American peace prize should go to anyone who has a begining of a solution for the tremendous violence that is being caused by American drug abuse and it is happening next to our border!! , 2500 killings in one year across the Rio Grande in Juarez. that's ten times the US death rate of Iraq and Afghanistan. The killings are over the US drug trade. not over somebody elses oil or nuclear weapon access. AND.. It's barely on the radar of US consciousness. Neither US party even has a policy on what to do.. WHY?? no spin people are deployed by either party..
Kevin Jam
8 years 10 months ago
 I would especially like to return to the basic reality that the word "irony" was never actually used in the NPR piece. To me that seems expecially glaring here.


The latest from america

 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018
Kevin Clarke tells us about his reporting from Iraq.
Olga SeguraOctober 19, 2018
For U.S. Catholics, every synod is also a valuable reminder—and corrective—that it is not all about us.
The EditorsOctober 19, 2018
For decades, the U.S. church has gifted its public servants with the social teachings and magisterium of the church.
Christopher Jolly HaleOctober 19, 2018