The Tricky Politics of Obama's Nobel Speech

Last week he escalated the war in Afghanistan, this week he will accept the Nobel Peace Prize

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President Obama travels to Oslo, Norway to accept his Nobel Peace Prize and give a speech to an audience of one thousand. The October 9 announcement of the award was met with shock, and commentators reached a quick consensus that he had not, after only a few months in office, "earned" the prize. Obama has a serious political challenge in accepting the prize gracefully without appearing oblivious to this skepticism, and more importantly, to criticism of his recent escalation of the war in Afghanistan--a policy move at odds with being a peace prize laureate.

  • Arguing For Peace Through War  The New York Times's Jeff Zeleny explains "the paradox of this moment." President Obama "faces a far different challenge than those who have gone before him: He is a wartime leader, accepting a medal that is a commendation to peace, which even he insists he does not yet deserve. [...] If the trajectory of the president’s political career can be measured, at least in part, through his speeches, the remarks he will give on Thursday about the United States’ place in the world provide one of the most pronounced tests of his rhetoric." Zeleny says Obama will have to explain "why war is necessary to bring peace."
  • Obama Must Preach Cooperation  World Politics Review's Michael Cohen argues that Obama should treat the prize as a mandate for America to lead, but not dictate to, the world. "If the Bush years were a lesson in the limitations of U.S. power, the world's reaction to the election of Barack Obama was a reminder of America's powerful global image. For all its faults, America still possesses the unique ability to take the lead in shaping the new international system. But America cannot lead if others won't follow." Cohen explains, "The days when America could dictate to the world are gone. Indeed, they never truly existed."
  • Americans Want War Or Peace?  Politics Daily's Bruce Drake reads the polls. "Obama's Afghan speech drove up the percentage who support the war, but only about a quarter believe he has earned the prestigious Nobel award." Drake quotes Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown, "It's probably a good thing for President Obama that the time difference from Norway means the Nobel presentation will occur while most Americans are sleeping and might get less coverage in the United States."
  • Give Obama A Break  Foreign Policy's Johan Bergenas insists we're too hard on him. "Can you think of any other nation that would have responded in such a negative manner to the announcement that its leader had received the Nobel Peace Prize?" he asks. "Fortunately, it's not too late for Americans to accept Obama's Nobel Peace Prize as the national treasure it is."
  • Who Did Obama Beat Out?  NBC's Domenico Montanaro digs up rumors and official nominations, finding many possible candidates. Highlights include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, American author and activist Gregg Mortenson, American musician Pete Seeger, and a host of humanitarian heroes from Africa, East Asia, and especially the Middle East.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.