Will Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize weaken America’s standing in the world, as some conservatives worry? They point out that the president was nominated only twelve days after taking office, by which time he had done nothing to possibly warrant his selection. Rush Limbaugh worries the prize will “neuter” his presidency, encouraging Obama to maintain his allegedly pacifistic foreign policy and not confront Iran. Unfortunately, the real problem is quite different.

It is valid to say that Obama had achieved virtually nothing at the time of his nomination. And yet, one could argue, from a pro-peace perspective, that he was a far more worthy back then than he is now. At the time, he was making diplomatic gestures to reverse the belligerent tone of the Bush administration. He was announcing the end of an era of torture, indefinite detention, holding suspects at Guantánamo without habeas corpus, and a foreign policy of reckless war making, specifically in Iraq. He sounded as though he wanted to make America a less aggressive nation.

Since then, the real tragedy of the Obama presidency has begun to unfold, and yet most commentators have ignored it for partisan reasons. The left has emphasized his rhetorical differences with Bush. The right has claimed he is gutting the military and undoing the “successes” of Bush’s war on terror by coddling terror suspects and being reluctant to bomb foreigners.

In fact, Obama has increased military spending. He has essentially reverted to the Bush policy on indefinite detentions and military commissions and has fought to isolate hundreds of prisoners at Bagram in Afghanistan from the protections of habeas corpus, even after a Bush-appointed federal judge determined that the same protections that reach Guantánamo should apply to many cases at Bagram. Obama has pushed to revise the Freedom of Information Act to conceal photographic evidence of torture and has protected his executive branch predecessors from any legal accountability for their crimes.

The president has escalated the war in Afghanistan, a war that has persisted far longer than World Wars I and II combined. The same day Obama was awarded the prize, he was contemplating much more dramatic escalation. He has killed uncounted numbers of civilians, including those attending a wedding party conspicuously destroyed by U.S. bombing. In the first half of 2009, nearly 90% of which was on Obama’s watch, civilian casualties in Afghanistan reached record numbers, according to the UN. Obama has ramped up drone attacks on Pakistan, contributing to a humanitarian disaster by fomenting the mass displacement of civilians. He invaded Somalia. He has done nothing to cut back America’s imperial presence throughout the world.

As for Iran, the White House is still pondering harsher sanctions or even war, which would be a calamity. Obama, like Bush, has misrepresented the threat from Iran and is reportedly contemplating a bombing mission. At the least, the administration wants more trade sanctions, which could also be deemed an act of war.

Obama probably deserves the prize as much as some previous recipients, like Henry Kissinger and Woodrow Wilson, but it is still obnoxious to see any warmonger get it. It says something perverse about what the establishment regards as pro-peace activism.

The real problem with Obama’s Nobel is not that it might neuter him, but rather that it may embolden him. In the name of peace, he and previous presidents have kept America in a virtual state of perpetual war for three generations. The Nobel is a signal to Obama that he can keep talking like a man of peace even as he acts like a master of war. Those who favored Obama, thinking he’d be less belligerent against Iran than McCain, now have more reason to worry.