Adam Serwer on Obama's Nobel Speech

Obama's contradictions reveal his worldview

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President Obama's speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize put him in the difficult situation of framing his most significant foreign policy act--escalating the war in Afghanistan--as a mission of peace. He had little choice but to explain what role he intends for America in the world, an articulation many pundits are calling the Obama Doctrine. Quite a few of them laid out interpretations of what that doctrine is. Typically, this meant carving out a single thesis--"realism with a heart," a refutation of the Bush doctrine, etc.--and hunting out supporting evidence. But the American Prospect's Adam Serwer made the strongest case by uncovering the tensions in the speech:

It was a lengthy defense of American military intervention from World War II to Desert Storm, and a forceful justification of the escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan. It was a stirring defense of human rights, and an indictment of violence and extremism. Obama at once dismissed the idea of a military solution for problems of hunger and disease, while justifying military intervention on humanitarian grounds. [...]

It was an unapologetic assertion of American exceptionalism, all while tying that exceptionalism to actual American behavior. It was, in short, exactly the kind of speech that one has come to expect from Obama, with it's paeans to human dignity [...] a vision of American exceptionalism that demands certain standards of American conduct, not one that justifies our actions when we fall short.  It neither justifies violence as a solution to all problems nor condemns it as useless.

After all, Obama is in the deeply contradictory position of accepting the world's grandest peace laurel while continuing to wage one of this era's longest wars. Serwer homes in on many of the related contradictions that Obama faces, and that he will have to resolve.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.