December 9, 2009
Accepting Peace Prize Will Be a Test for Obama
Yet when President Obama travels to
There is, of course, no escaping the paradox of this moment for Mr. Obama as he delivers an acceptance speech for his Nobel Peace Prize only nine days after announcing that he would escalate the war in
“There is one very pregnant question,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “How do you reconcile your role as a commander in chief with your aspirations to promote a more peaceful world at a time of war? That’s a question that he’s going to explore in some detail.”
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
It is, after all, merely a speech. (Actually in the parlance of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, it is called a Nobel Lecture, which is supposed to last 20 to 25 minutes.)
But suddenly, the burden seems even greater than it did two months ago when the Nobel committee startled the world — and Mr. Obama — with its decision to honor the president well before a full picture of his achievements is known.
At the time, the committee made no mention of
So there was little question inside the White House that the central themes of the president’s speech had to include war and peace.
Two days after he delivered his Afghanistan address last week at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office with two speech writers, Ben Rhodes and Jon Favreau, and began to offer an outline for what he would like to say in Oslo.
Mr. Obama is the third sitting American president to be awarded the peace prize. A student of history, he read the lecture of Theodore Roosevelt, who won the award in 1906 for his role in bringing an end to the war between
With so few former presidents to seek guidance from, aides said, Mr. Obama also spent time looking back at the speech of George C. Marshall, who was awarded the prize in 1953 for helping to rebuild the post-World War II world through the plan of economic aid that bears his name. Mr. Obama also was intrigued by the lectures of more recent honorees, aides said, including Mr. Mandela in 1993 and Dr. King in 1964.
The lessons of history, though, provided only a limited amount of instruction, considering that Mr. Obama’s circumstances are starkly different than those of previous winners. So in addition to explaining his strategy for Afghanistan — outlining why war is necessary to bring peace — the president’s advisers said they will reprise the words of humility that Mr. Obama delivered on Oct. 9, hours after learning he had won the award.
“It’s not necessarily an award he would have given himself,” Mr. Axelrod said. “In that sense, it poses a challenge, but thinking through these issues is not burdensome. He spends a lot of time thinking about how you promote a more peaceful and secure world, about the appropriate use of power and about the value and importance of diplomacy.”
To minimize his time away from
It was then, aides said, they realized that they would not be able to tailor the setting of the lecture in the way they usually do to project Mr. Obama exactly how they wish.
When presidents deliver their most important speeches, like Mr. Obama’s April address on nuclear threats from the central
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs