President Barack Obama said he was grateful and humbled to receive the Nobel Peace prize, and acknowledged his accomplishments are slight when compared to past honorees. But in his acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, President Obama had to balance the role of a wartime president with his recognition as a man of peace.
The United States is engaged in two wars and President Obama's appearance comes days after he announced a military buildup in Afghanistan. He deftly addressed several audiences, including the American public and European nations both wary of the continuing Afghan War. His speech amounted to a declaration of an Obama Doctrine, "I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people."
He eschewed idealistic passages of peace for the hardened rhetoric of war, "There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified." He then warned, "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."
President Obama, who has been criticized by conservatives for being too apologetic in past speeches overseas, made no apologies in Oslo. "Whatever mistakes we have made," he said, "The plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms."
He noted that, while there was no longer fear of a nuclear war between two superpowers, "The old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats." He continued, "Modern technology allows a few small men with out-sized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale."
He said there have to be new standards for the use of force that apply to all nations. "I - like any head of state - reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation," he said. "Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates - and weakens - those who don't." President Obama also said that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, saying, "Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later."
President Obama, who expressed concern about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, called out Iran and North Korea. "Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted" he said. "The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people." The president noted that he had prohibited torture, ordered the prison at Guantanamo closed and reaffirmed America's compliance with the Geneva Convention.
The president did speak of alternatives to violence in dealing with nations that break rules and laws. He said that the international community must stand together as one against rogue nations; that their words must be backed up by tough sanctions. “Intransigence must be met with increased pressure,” he said, “and such pressure only exists when the world stands together as one.” He praised NATO for its support in Afghanistan and called for a strengthening of UN and regional peacekeeping.
President Obama was fond of saying "dream big dreams" during his presidential campaign. But after nearly one year as president his outlook has been tempered by his deliberations over worldly problems such as war and human suffering. Now a more pragmatic and realistic man has stepped forward onto the world stage.