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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Barack Obama’s war and peace speech silences criticism

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US President Barack Obama’s justification for war in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech won general praise on Friday as he left Oslo at the end of a quick visit to receive the prestigious award.

In a delicate but skillfully executed exercise, Obama referred to himself as “commander-in-chief of a nation in the midst of two wars” and said armed conflict was at times necessary.

Most commentators, however, praised the 44’th US president’s “realism.”

“You have to give Obama real credit: he spoke honestly, as a president with two wars on the go — which inescapably framed his thinking,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo.

At home Obama’s speech was also lauded by commentators and media. Time magazine’s political columnist Joe Klein called it a “noble lecture” which he found “intellectually rigorous and morally lucid.” “The Nobel Committee has faced a lot of criticism for this year’s choice. One may wonder how much of that criticism remains after yesterday’s political show,” wrote a commentator in Aftenposten, Norway’s main newspaper.

“To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason,” Obama said during his speech at the glittering ceremony in Oslo City Hall.

There was some sniping at the speech, made just after the president decided to send 30,000 more troops to fight in Afghanistan. “Barack Obama, in his Nobel speech, used the word peace 29 times and the word war 35 times,” the daily Dagens Naeringsliv said in a comment entitled “The peace warrior.” His speech “could have been, in many aspects, delivered by (Obama’s predecessor) George W. Bush, apart from a few exceptions at the end,” a columnist at daily Dagsavisen wrote.

And a reporter from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK asked, “Is Obama a sugar-coated Bush?”

But Obama clearly singled out Bush when he attached a call to stand by moral standards to his right to war.

“We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honour those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard,” Obama said, underlining his order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison set up under Bush. The president’s message was also well received by Nobel officials.

Thursday’s “Nobel speech shows Obama is a head of state of great stature, exactly what the world needs,” Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told Norwegian news agency NTB.

When giving the prize to Obama Thursday, Jagland rejected critics’ claims that it was premature, saying “history can tell us a great deal about lost opportunities.” At the traditional Nobel dinner after the award ceremony, Obama joked that Jagland’s speech had him “almost convinced that I deserved it.”

The influential secretary of the five-member committee said Obama’s defence of armed conflict as he received the world’s most prestigious peace accolade was “completely acceptable.”

“He raised difficult questions by pointing out the difficult balance between war and peace, and why, in certain circumstances, war cannot be avoided,” Geir Lundestad said.

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