This diary examines President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech line-by-line. Page numbers refer to those over at the New York Times website which has the text of the speech up in its entirety.
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I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations — that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.
Sounds like the basis for "yes, we can" that Obama seems to have given up on in America. But how can we "bend history in the direction of justice" if we only look "forward and not backward"? This statement doesn’t square with others that Obama has made since being installed as President nor with his actions. And we can only "bend history"? Poor choice of words: "shape history" would be better.
And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. (Laughter.)
NO transition from the earlier thought but obviously Obama knows this decision is hugely controversial and that he needs to address the point immediately. It’s sad to see the Norwegians laughing at this comment when many people worldwide are laughing at them for their decision.
In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage.
Translation: I ain’t done nothing yet.
Compared to some of the giants of history who’ve received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.
So true but Obama’s huge ego shows through as he’s eager to make the comparison anyway.
And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. 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.
This section is designed to show Obama’s humility but its truth cannot be ignored.
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars.
A passive statement even made in the passive voice: "I am". NOT: I am the President who has escalated the war in Afghanistan twice this year; first, in February, when I sent 21,000 more troops there, and again in December, when I called for 30,000 more troops." Obama makes himself out almost as the victim here: a destiny forced on himself. This does not square with his earlier: "we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice." Contradictions already appear in Obama’s words and thoughts.
One of these wars is winding down.
Last time I looked, the U.S. still has something like 100,000 troops in Iraq not counting the mercenary "special contractors". It also has its largest embassy in the world there; not a temporary structure to be easily dismantled.
The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.
Much misleading here. Only a handful of countries (the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Italy) have fighting troops in Afghanistan. Norway has only something like 400 nation building troops. Obama here also builds on the bogus explanation for the American presence in Afghanistan that he laid in his West Point escalation speech where he claimed that it was in Afghanistan that the origins of the 9/11 attack were laid.
Still, we are at war, and I’m responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land.
Notice again the passive statement using the passive voice: again, it sounds like this was thrust upon Obama, again at odds with his earlier statement about us making our own destiny.
Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
The Obama ego surfaces again: because people kill each other in war, the person who ordered the bloodbath has "an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict"? How does that follow? Uncle Adolph could have made himself out as quite the humanitarian too (and yes, he was considered for the Peace Prize and rumored to be the top contender in 1938).
Now these questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.
This war is inevitable approach is completely contradictory to Obama’s opening where man chooses his own destiny. He could be making the same argument about "the poor" as about war here.
The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.
Sounds like a lesson in 5th grade history.
And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations — an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize — America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.
The guys in "the white hats" arrive to save everybody. And of course, Obama is playing right into this mythmaking by casting himself as the new Wilson. Wilson, by the way, set the cause of world peace back immensely when he brought the United States (over the wishes of most of the population) into the meat grinder that was WWI. Most historians believe that had that not happened, the war would have been a stalemate and the punitive Treat of Versailles that contained the seeds of the rise of fascism, would not have been written.
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In many ways, these efforts succeeded.
Sorry, but the U.S.A. has been involved in several major wars: in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan since that time. Our government has been instrumental in dozens of overthrows of government in that time, including legitimately elected ones.
The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall.
With a whimper, not a bang, and mostly caused by humble citizens and not their political leaders despite Reagan’s "tear this wall down" speech that the History channel loves to reply at least 3 times a day.
Billions have been lifted from poverty.
Ignores the fact that billions still suffer in poverty and that the gap between the rich nations and the poor has grown, as has the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States. This is a fairy tale like world that Obama gleefully outlines.
The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.
Obama has forgotten George W already, even after all the bashing he did in 2008? And do not the forced renditions continue under Obama, is not GITMO still open, and has not his administration decided to "look forward and not backward" in FAILING to prosecute those who formulated policies of torture? Where you been Mr. President?
And yet, a decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.
A favorite theme of Obama’s but one that is hardly original with him, despite his own belief that he has thought this up.
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.
Especially if we don’t try. Again, note the passivity of this and the fatalism here which is contradicted by Obama’s own words in his opening. Here war is inevitable, a plague on mankind and not something that is a chosen instrument by politicians and terrorists.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
A truly incredible passage in which Obama somehow portrays himself as a successor of King and perhaps Gandhi too. The supreme Obama ego shines through. This whole paragraph directly contradicts his last several. Somehow Obama has gone from: 1. we choose our own destiny to 2. war is bad but inevitable to 3. Violence never brings about permanent peace and I am a link to the greatest nonviolent thinkers and actors the world has seen. This goes beyond being presumptuous.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.
Obama makes it sounds like if he had his own way, if he wasn’t held in check as the President, he would follow their examples. This is running away from responsibilities. Notice all the statements headed by "But" in this address. First Obama sets out a premise (usually a false one) and this is followed by a "but" qualification.
I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.
Making M.L. King and Gandhi out as unreal idlers while Obama alone has the good heart but also the sense to know that essentially nonviolence doesn’t work!
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. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
A Manichean version of the world. What happened to the "audacity of hope"? Warning, Straw man argument: "negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms": it is a movement, and perhaps negotiations could convince their followers to lay down their arms.
Whatever mistakes we have made, 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. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
In the face of evil, sound the bugle and the guys in white hats appear again. It’s the good USA vs. the EVIL inherent in the world. Sort of like professional wrestling on a world stage: with the good guy vs. the bad guys in black. A totally unconvincing and superficial case made for American exceptionalism.
So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another — that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.
A mish mash of mushy ideas. Obama’s saying because the world is evil (but not the USA) we need weapons and armies (and bloated defense budgets). But because he is also getting the Peace Prize he has to minimize the glories of war: no trumpets here, although one could hear the bugle charge in his prior two paragraphs.
So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions." A gradual evolution of human institutions.
More dualistic thinking, setting up straw man arguments. Note too the reference to Kennedy that has a poor transition from the prior statement but Obama again seems to be putting himself in select company: Wilson, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and now JFK. His is not a small ego.
To begin with, I believe that all nations — strong and weak alike — must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation.
But the "standards that govern the use of force" are set by leaders like Obama, so this is really meaningless. Almost all perpetrators of wars have defended them as defensive. Since Obama raised the Axis Powers and WWII earlier, recall that Hitler and Nazi Germany claimed that Poland started WWII by attacking its frontiers.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.
Another instance of the curious effect in this speech: statement and qualifier. Dualism throughout the speech. Here Obama sounds like a businessman eager to set up and abide by ISO standards.
The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait — a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.
Obama rewrites history. We are in Afghanistan because of "self defense"? Here again Obama shamelessly uses the 9/11 attacks, even as Bush repeatedly did. He clearly wants to lump 9/11, Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein together in people’s minds.
Furthermore, America — in fact, no nation — can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves.
A very poorly written part of the speech. We now depart from ISO standards to AAA "rules of the road". What is he talking about?
I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That’s why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.
Here Obama seems to see himself as a new age thinker but war has almost always been justified on the grounds of defense or humanitarian grounds. Recall the British, French and American propaganda in WWI that German soldiers were killing Belgian babies?
This is old wine in old bottles.
But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.
Sounds nice especially to Norwegians but America really HAS acted pretty much alone for decades. 9/10ths of the troops in Afghanistan are from the U.S.A. This is also a recipe for perpetual war.
The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries, and other friends and allies, demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they’ve shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That’s why NATO continues to be indispensable. That’s why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That’s why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali — we honor them not as makers of war, but of wagers — but as wagers of peace.
A very curious serious of statements by someone accepting the Nobel Peace prize which underscores the foolishness of the Norwegians in giving it to Obama. This is not an outline of peace, it is a defense of war and SEEMS to be a call for an even bigger war (in Pakistan) just as his speech was at West Point.
Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant — the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.
Very interesting to raise this especially since the U.S.A. under Obama has decided to be the sole nation in the world NOT TO OUTLAW land mines. And he raises the Geneva Conventions, something that the USA under both Bush and Obama have ignored in things like torture and forced renditions. Tell us again, Mr. Obama, whose administration is refusing to release pictures of torture victims? Who is using the same rationale in its legal briefs as George W. Bush did? Could it be, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner?
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Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.)
Obama knows how to play up to his audience for applause but this statement does not square at all with his "we must look forward not backward" actions, his failures to prosecute wrongdoing related to the Geneva Conventions under Bush and now his own administration. Forced renditions continue under Obama, torture continues in Bagram and at hundred of hell holes used by the USA throughout the world. GITMO is still open almost a year after Obama took office. Only an audience unaware of what is happening in the USA could applaud this. Norwegians really are clueless.
First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior — for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure — and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.
Could have been delivered by Woodrow Wilson. Didn’t work then, doesn’t work today.
One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament.
Could be taken as a threat to Iran. Note too that the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world by far is held by: the United States.
But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.
Ah, Obama raises Iran now. But no mention that Israel has long had the bomb or that it has had more UN votes against it than any other country.
The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma — there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy — but there must be consequences when those things fail. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.
Nice words but what consequences have there been, for instance, against Burma? Singapore, Thailand and numerous other USA allies in ASEAN deal with it routinely with no consequences whatsoever. ASEAN even has a name for this: engagement.
This brings me to a second point — the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.
It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.
More pap for the gullible delivered by a man who has twice in one year escalated in Afghanistan and whose defense budgets are bigger than W’s. Nice words but they are at odds with his actions.
And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation’s development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists — a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.
I reject these choices.
Obama sets up a series of straw men arguments and then knocks them down, to the delight of his host.
America has never fought a war against a democracy
Rewriting history again. America has used its secret agencies to wage war against democracies: case in point, S. Allende’s Chile was overthrown by the CIA under Nixon and Kissinger. The USA is propping up a government in Honduras which has overthrown a popularly elected government. The USA is propping up a government in Thailand that overthrow its hugely popular democratic leader.
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We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi;
The USA has done little or nothing to help the democratic aspirations of the people of Burma or Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Obama recently returned from an ASEAN meeting; ASEAN has a policy of "engagement" with the Burmese generals and effectively props up that regime.
to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements — these movements of hope and history — they have us on their side.
Thousands apparently were demonstrating in Norway against Obama for this speech; thousands of Americans have protested his escalation in Afghanistan, but I doubt that he cares or has heard about it. Nice words but pure pap for simpletons.
No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.
Assumes that repressive regimes like those in Burma WANT to move down a new path. They don’t.
In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable — and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There’s no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.
Obama puts himself in further elite company: the Pope, Nixon, Lech Walesa, Reagan (whom Obama adores) and Obama’s royal "we".
What an ego!
Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights — it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.
True words but how galling coming from someone who has done so little for his own poor and unemployed. Pure propaganda here.
Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more — and that’s the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there’s something irreducible that we all share.
All nice, lofty and pretty words but Obama completely ignores what he has done: increase the USA’s war budget, escalate the war twice in Afghanistan, and do little or nothing for his own country’s poor and unemployment. The gap between rhetoric and actions is huge with Obama. He’s all words.
And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities — their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we’re moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden.
Again, Obama presents the world as if the USA and his actions had no part in it. Recall that during the campaign, he pledged to return the USA to an "honest broker" role between Israel and Palestine but has done nothing of the sort. His Chief of Staff’s dad is a self-confessed Zionist.
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the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan.
This line could have been written and delivered by George W. or Dick Cheney. Again, Obama raises 9/11 and again misleads when he says his country was attacked from Afghanistan. The hijackers (14 of 19) came from Saudi Arabia, the planning was done in Hamburg, Germany.
Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. For we are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best of intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.
Really poorly written, sappy stuff.
The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance,
A truly back-handed swipe at both men. Obama puts himself in their category but calls them at the same time idealists, while he’s the realist. True nonsense and both Martin Luther King and Gandhi must be rolling over in their graves at this… Notice too that Obama uses the past tense here when he really means the present and future tenses.
For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what’s best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.
Nice pap for a peace prize speech but again, Obama seems in the other parts of his speech to have done precisely this: dismiss King and Gandhi as naive.
Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he’s outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school — because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child’s dreams.
Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace.
A bundle of contradictions but that seems to be the story of Obama. A man who called for change, but has done little or nothing; a man who promised to bring new faces to Washington but instead continues the same old same, same….All words…all the time.