Barely a week after authorizing a major increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan, Barack Obama stood in Oslo’s City Hall to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. In his speech, Obama invoked the work of previous prize recipients Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, even as he evoked the notion of a “just war,” robustly defending the use of military force “on humanitarian grounds” and to preserve a larger peace.
In what was clearly a response to critics who have argued his award has come far too early in his presidency to be meaningful for what he has actually achieved, Obama acknowledged that “compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize” his list of accomplishments was still “slight.” But Obama said that criticism of his prize as premature would recede if he advanced the crucial global goals of a nuclear-free world and addressed climate change. And he added, “if I’m not successful, then all the praise in the world won’t disguise that fact.”
Reaching for the right balance between humility and appreciation, in remarks before his acceptance speech, while meeting Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg, he said that receiving the award “was a great surprise to me,” and that “I have no doubt that there are others who may be more deserving.”
According to aides, Obama was still working on his speech even as he was already on board Air Force One, en route to Oslo from the US. The crux of this speech was to reconcile the paradox of accepting a prize for peace after announcing he would send more American troops to Afghanistan. Or, as in the words Obama ultimately chose to say:
“Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty three other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.”
Still, we are at war,” he said, “ and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
Obama attempted to address the question of what actually constitutes a just war. In speaking about this, Obama urged his audience to “think in new ways about the notions of a just war and the imperatives of a just peace.” He went on to say that the tools of war have a place in human conduct but that their use must be governed by “certain rules of conduct.” But, peace, he added would always be “unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear.”
Before the actual formal ceremony, Obama went to the Nobel Institute in Oslo where he inscribed a guest book that includes such names Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, among many other illustrious names.
But, given Obama’s role as a wartime commander receiving the world’s premier award for peace, Norwegian and other anti-war protesters, including the international environmental activist group, Greenpeace, have been staging a number of demonstrations throughout Oslo.
Earlier, Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg defended Obama, saying that, “I cannot think about anyone else who has done more for peace during the last year than Barack Obama,” thereby echoing the Nobel selection panel’s position that Obama’s call for a world free of nuclear weapons, for a more engaged U.S. role in combating global warming, and for his support of the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy had captured the attention of the world, giving people “hope.”
Two previous sitting US presidents – Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson – have won the prize; and former president Jimmy Carter and former vice president Al Gore have also been winners. The award now comes with a $1.4 million cash prize. The White House has explained that Barack Obama will give his monetary award to various charities — but that he has not yet decided which ones will receive contributions from him. This award for peace, together with others in literature, medicine and the sciences come from a bequest by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.
By J. Brooks Spector
For the full text of Obama’s speech go to the AP
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