Obama's Nobel speech

My workday began with an indescribably tedious morning (which would be no more enjoyable for me to recount or you to read about), and I've not had much opportunity to do my usual sweep through the Internet tubes. Thus, I'm a little late with commentary regarding the President's Nobel acceptance speech. However, knowing that I had an obligation to my loyal readers (some of whom aren't even related to me) to offer my thoughts, I finally found the time to read the whole thing. (If you've not done so, you can find the text here.)

I think the speech was as good as anyone could possibly have wanted, given the circumstances at hand. Obama was presented with two significant obstacles in crafting this speech:

1) He hasn't done a whole heck of a lot to justify receiving recognition of this magnitude. I think nobody but his most starry-eyed admirers would dispute this. He seems to have won the Peace Prize through a combination of being America's first black President (no mean feat, but also as much as reflection on the country as on the man) and not being George W. Bush. He offers the chance for a new chapter in America's relationship with the world, but it's still only a few months into his first term, so that relationship is still very much in the making.

2) He has very recently announced an increase in American forces in Afghanistan. No matter what one's feelings are with regard to the legitimacy of our action there (and I happen to think our continued involvement is justified in a way that the war in Iraq has never been), it is a very fine needle to thread to accept a prize for peace in the run-up to an escalation in war.

On the former note, his audience in Oslo was no worry, certainly in comparison to his more vociferous critics here at home. He had to appear humble, and aware of his current standing with regard to the arc of history. I think he did this adroitly:
And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. (Laughter.) In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women -- some known, some obscure to all but those they help -- to be far more deserving of this honor than I.
As to the second problem, he addressed it directly, promptly and clearly.
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military 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 42 other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict -- filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.


I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Just so. I would doubtless find myself disagreeing with many of my friends on the Left, but I think history makes undeniably clear the lesson that peace cannot be pursued at all costs. War is sometimes necessary. One need only recall the gash in history inflicted by the Third Reich to know that this is so, no matter what our dreams for a better world may be. We must conduct war as rarely, justly, briefly and gravely as possible, and only as a last resort. But sometimes it must be conducted, nonetheless.

So, whatever my feelings about his receiving the award in the first place (an occasion I think even he would have chosen to delay until a later point in his life), I was proud of my President today, and applaud him for a speech well done.


  1. The speech wasn't a disaster, in fact, it was halfway decent if you weren't expecting much. But I'm not proud of our President for insulting Norwegians and their customs. Someone please tell Scary-smart that he's the Head of State for the US, and casually insulting other cultures is not cool. Not cool at all. Arrogant cowboy.

  2. I always admire your ability to find the tempest in even the smallest of teapots, John.

  3. gj, Obama is the first sitting US President to receive the award, he has special security needs
    and are you aware of how many millions of dollars would have been needed to have been spent for him to do all of these functions? And also he has far more pressing concerns, like governing the country. In fact, if he had done that you would have railed about how he was wasting his time and taxpayer dollar. And, please, like you give a rats ass about the feelings of a few Norwegians.

    By the way, what analysis gj, so inciteful. I am sure you could have written a much better speech.

    I thought the speech was fine and not unexpected. I always find it amusing when people on the left scream "this is not the obama I voted for" and the people on the right (at least as to this speech, by and large) "this is not the Obama I feared."

    The guy is as he has always been, a centrist Democrat and a pragmatist. And a hell of an orator.


  4. Why, thank you.

    One more nit; the line "violence never brings permanent peace." What, exactly does bring permanent peace? Certainly not constantly appeasing the crocodile. Pres. Obama has no answer except to fill his speech with platitude upon platitude; his belief that the human condition can be perfected, whatever that means, for example.

    At least he didn't take his usual approach of apologizing for everything America has ever done in the world.

  5. charo, Mr. Obama is the Head of State, and we simply have to pick up the expense of our Head of State behaving in a civilized manner. And if he's too busy to deal with the awards, then he should decline the awards politely. It is boorish to drop in, pick up the award, and scoot.