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Obama offers a defense of force in accepting Peace Prize

OSLO

Newly enshrined among the world's great peacemakers, President Barack Obama offered a striking defense of war.

Eleven months into his presidency, a fresh Obama doctrine.

Evil must be vigorously opposed, he declared as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday. At the same time, he made an impassioned case for building a "just and lasting peace."

"I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people," Obama told his audience in Oslo's soaring City Hall. "For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world."

Pronouncing himself humbled by such an honor so early in "my labors on the world stage," Obama nevertheless turned his Nobel moment into an unapologetic defense of armed intervention in times of self-defense or moral necessity. The hawkish message was an inevitable nod to the controversy defining his selection: an American president, lauded for peace just as he escalates the long, costly war in Afghanistan.

It was a jarring moment when Obama, in the midst of the ceremony, said of his troops in Afghanistan: "Some will kill. Some will be killed."

He lauded Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., preachers of nonviolent action. But he added, "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida'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."

He accepted the prize with an endorsement of America's place in the world. "Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this," Obama said. "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 president stressed a need to fight war according to "rules of conduct" that reject torture. "We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend," he said.

He emphasized a need to exhaust alternatives to violence, including sanctions with teeth to confront nations like Iran or North Korea that defy international demands. He pushed himself away from George W. Bush in defending diplomatic outreach to engage even enemies. He defined peace as civil rights, free speech and economic opportunity, not just the absence of conflict.

"Let us reach for the world that ought to be," Obama said. "We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace."

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who appeared alongside Obama, announced that his country would increase its contribution of funds for the Afghan police and military to $110 million over the next four years — a response to Obama's call for international coalition partners to provide more troops and money to the Afghan effort.

Back in the United States, foreign policy specialists saw the speech as underscoring Obama's revamping of America's stance — away from confrontation and toward cooperation and negotiation when possible, and military action when unavoidable.

Obama showed "a sense of daring" in talking about war as he was honored as a man of peace, said John Baick, professor of history at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. "He bared his soul, said we were going to have to kill, have to send soldiers to die, we hope we're doing the right thing," Baick said.

The centerpiece of Obama's 26-hour trip to Europe, the speech drew laughter when he acknowledged "the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated."

"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 said.

The award consists of a diploma and a gold medal bearing the etched face of Alfred Nobel, the wealthy chemist and inventor of dynamite who endowed the prize more than a century ago. It carries a $1.4 million cash award, which the White House has said Obama will donate to charity. At least some of the money, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said, might go to a group focused on microfinance, the development specialty of Obama's mother.

First lady Michelle Obama, listened to her husband's words and showed tears by the end.

Obama capped his evening with a sentimental toast at a candlelit dinner with Norwegian dignitaries, paying tribute to the influence of his late mother and the "largeness of her heart." And he spoke hopefully of the "extraordinary power" of the Nobel Prize to lift up those who might otherwise be forgotten.

Obama offers a defense of force in accepting Peace Prize 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 11:08pm]
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