I did not hear the president’s speech yesterday in Oslo when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, so cannot comment on his delivery.
When I started reading snippets on conservative blogs, most singing the speech’s praises (with slight quibbles for some of the language), I thought I was reading something from a speech by John McCain or Joe Lieberman. So, I printed it out to read at my leisure.
Now that I have read it, I agree that it is very strong speech, if a bit overlong. My biggest quibble was that he didn’t acknowledge those great warriors throughout history who have secured the peace, whether it be generals like George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant or leaders like Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan. When the president mentioned the Gipper, he didn’t mention his arms buildup which put the U.S. in a position to promote peace through strength, but cited instead his “efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika“.
That said, the Gipper would have appreciated the better part of this address.
I absolutely loved his beginning when he acknowledged the “considerable controversy” of his selection. He called “the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics . . . far more deserving of this honor than” he.
Then, he was wise to describe the war in Afghanistan as “a conflict that America did not seek”. A great way to introduce the notion of a just war. Then, in perhaps my favorite passage in the speech (because it relates to some of my dissertation research):
Now these questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.
And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.
Well said, very, very well said. Later, after expressing great admiration for Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two advocates of non-violence, he reminds us that their strategy cannot always work:
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.
He went on to praise the United States for helping
underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
And without uttering the word, “Iraq,” he included words which could be used to justify the liberation of that nation from Saddam’s tyranny: “if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable.” He even called out Iran and North Korea for gaming the system.
On the whole, it was a strong speech which spoke to the best in America and acknowledged the (occasional) necessity of war. Does this signal, as some have suggested, a change in his foreign policy? It’s too early to say, but one can hope.
Perhaps, this address to the international community indicates Obama intends to be more aggressive toward Iran and to stand firm in his commitment on Afghanistan. The person who wrote this speech likely didn’t have a hand in the president’s address last month to the cadets at West Point. Maybe it’s because that writer was too busy working on this one.
If so, it was well worth his effort.