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Obama Defends War As He Accepts Nobel Peace Prize

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Dec 10, 2009 3:20PM

President Obama was in Olso, Norway today to receive his controversial Nobel Peace Prize. When the award was announced in October, critics claimed it was "too soon" for Obama to be receiving the award but the Nobel Committee defended the award. Today, as Obama received the award, it was a different criticism directed by some at Obama: his decision to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan. Obama acknowledged these controversies in his speech (full video will be added after the jump as soon as it becomes available). First, on the topic of his selection:

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela - my accomplishments are slight...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.

He then acknowledged his receiving the Peace Prize despite being, "the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars," and added, "I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other." Obama continued, discussing the idea of a "just war," admitting, "I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war," name-checking people like King and Gandhi, but also defending himself, saying:

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 is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Overall, it was the kind of speech we've come to expect from Obama: eloquent, self-aware, and almost overly pragmatic. Obama even employed one of his favorite techniques, what our own Kevin Robinson referred to as "multi-pronged rhetorical flourishes" when he took time to "speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace." And, yet, as we close in on the completion of the first-year of Obama's presidency, there's still an urgency for action. When he refers to the closing of Guantanamo Bay, we still have the urge to respond, "But it's still open!" And here at home, the battle over health care continues and a rift has even formed over that issue within Obama's own party. Of course, to completely blame Obama for everything is a bit misguided: he inherited one hell of a mess - including both wars - when he came in to office, a mess that will take years to fix and he certainly has no control over who the Nobel Committee picks for their prizes. But as the "Hope" that the country was riding a year ago has given way to inaction and frustration, perhaps the attention brought by his receiving this award - and its ironic timing with the troop surge in Afghanistan - will be the impetus for an active Year Two from Obama. One can only, well, hope.