Well, I was certainly wrong.
As you’ll recall, I was a bit taken aback when it was announced that President Obama was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for perceived good intentions.
But after hearing and reading portions of his speech, I am wholeheartedly glad that he got the award. While I thought at first that someone should have to deliver more than speeches to receive the honor, I was reckoning without what a true statesman can do with a speech. He took advantage of the occasion to speak a little truth to the world, whether the world wanted to hear it or not. And that matters.
Rather than showing up and singing Kumbaya with the worldwide George W. Bush Haters Club — and face it, the Nobel committee obviously decided to give him the award for the virtue of Not Being George W. Bush — he said look, folks, sometimes the United States is going to go out and use force, and given our track record, you should be glad. After respectful nods to MLK and Gandhi, he said:
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: 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.
I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.
But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. 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.
Wow. You know, Obama keeps doing this. Every time you think, OK, I know Obama’s an impressive guy, but I’m used to him, he comes up with another speech that just blows you away. He did that with his speech on race after the Rev. Wright blew up in his face. He did it with his awesome victory speech here in South Carolina.
And now, he’s done it in Oslo. He could easily have phoned it in (the way Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson did) or just shown up and been sheepish and humble, and kept the fireworks to a minimum. But no, he used it as an extraordinary teachable moment.
The world needs to hear the president of the United States say these things, humbly, plainly, but with no punches pulled. He told them the plain facts of what American power means to the world, as its one best guarantor of collective security and best hope for freedom and justice, without apology. Good for him. And because of this speech, it’s clear that not just some guy named Barack Obama received the prize. The POTUS did. And that’s a point in which all Americans can take pride.
This guy’s just amazing.