Feature

A peace prize for a war president

At the ceremonies in Oslo, President Obama didn't deliver the speech expected by the Nobel Committee, though he did at least lay out some limits on the use of American power.

That sure was not your average Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, said David Usborne in Britain’s Independent. At the ceremonies in Oslo last week, President Barack Obama didn’t sing the praises of pacifism, but instead prepared the world for more bloodshed under his tenure. “The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it,” he said. “There will be times when nations, acting individually or in concert, will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.” Still, Obama did at least lay out some limits on the use of American power. He said that unilateral action should be a last resort, and that the laws of war, as outlined in the Geneva Conventions, must be obeyed.

How downright Orwellian, said Lorraine Millot in France’s Libération. “War is peace?” That is “doublethink straight out of 1984.” Neoconservatives rejoiced at Obama’s bellicose words. One historian has already pointed out that “if Bush had said the same things, the world would have erupted in violent denunciations—but when Obama says it, everyone purrs.” That’s because Obama is a master of nuanced rhetoric, said Pierre Rousselin in France’s Le Figaro. His speech had something for everyone, “from supporters of human rights to defenders of national security.” Above all, he was humble and self-deprecating, saying he did not enjoy the same stature as previous winner Martin Luther King Jr.

“Few winners have given such a reluctant speech—and with good reason,” said Spain’s ABC in an editorial. After all, this is the president who has ramped up the bombing of Pakistani villages and ordered another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. No wonder he “almost seemed to apologize for receiving the award.” Of course, the Nobel Committee set him up. They weren’t trying to give him something by awarding him the prize—they were trying to get something. “They wanted to pressure Obama to fulfill his campaign promises” by ending two wars, closing Guantánamo, creating a Palestinian state, and befriending the Muslim world, all while peacefully disarming North Korea and Iran. They’ll be waiting a long time.

The critics are missing the point, said Harald Stanghelle in Norway’s Aftenposten. Obama has already “brought about the most dramatic shift in the climate of international politics since the ghastly terror attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11.” His outreach to the Muslim world in Cairo last summer was the greatest step the U.S. has taken toward healing those wounds. Under his stewardship, the U.S. has begun “actively engaging in nuclear disarmament” by negotiating a new arms-control treaty with Russia. Perhaps most important, the “superpower once again regards the U.N. as an important international tool.” Any one of those achievements could have merited a Nobel Prize. That the critics mock Obama for not having achieved world peace merely “demonstrates what high hopes are attached to his presidency.” He’s made a great start. “And we expect more of the same.”

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