Washington By using his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech Thursday to justify expanding the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama won over some Republican critics at home, even as he preached messages of multilateralism, diplomacy and civil disobedience that resonate in anti-war circles around the world.
In a 36-minute speech in Oslo, Obama defended last week’s announcement that he’ll send 30,000 to 35,000 more troops to Afghanistan. He discouraged other nations’ “reflexive suspicion of America,” recalling how Europe survived thanks to U.S. intervention in World War II. He spoke of “just war.”
The president even invoked one of the favorite qualifiers of his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose legacy he campaigned against last year. Obama said, “Evil does exist in the world.”
While accepting an international honor that in the short term also has been somewhat of a political albatross, Obama sought to convey sufficient humility. He acknowledged “the considerable controversy” over receiving the peace prize after less than a year on the job.
Given the stature of some past winners, and the ordeals faced by humanitarian leaders who’ve never won, the president said, “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.”
Obama called on other nations to step up their commitments to U.N. peacekeeping efforts, nuclear disarmament and imposing serious sanctions on regimes that pose a threat to world stability.
“It is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system,” he said. “Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.”
Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives and an ever-possible presidential candidate, said on WNYC radio that Obama’s speech was “actually very good.”
Gingrich said “having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn’t be able to have a peace prize, without having force. ... I thought in some ways it’s a very historic speech.”
Scholars were intrigued by the duality of Obama’s speech and his underlying thinking.
“Evil in the world? ‘Just war’? What was hovering over this speech was ‘W,’” said Aaron David Miller, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, using a nickname for Bush.
“It’s an exquisite-but-must-be-painful irony for him to accept. He couldn’t come to Oslo and give any other speech than the one he gave.”