Wartime President To Accept Peace Prize

President Barack Obama is in Oslo, Norway, to receive his Nobel Peace Prize medal. He's in the unusual position of accepting the peace prize a week after ordering 30,000 more U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama is in Oslo, Norway today, to accept the Nobel Prize for Peace. Many have noted that he is receiving this award after being in office less than a year. And the ceremony comes days after the president announced plans to send 30,000 more troops to wage the war in Afghanistan.

Joining us to talk about all this is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, this president has not given his speech and you haven't seen it, but this particular speech would seem to be quite a challenge for the president, considering the circumstances that I've just spoken about surrounding the prize.

LIASSON: Well, it is such a problematic prize for the president for so many reasons. As you mentioned, he is a war president, going to pick up a peace prize just days after committing tens of thousands of new troops and to battle. He is a brand new president who was given this prize more for what he has promised to do than what he has actually accomplished. You know, many times the president chooses international venues when he wants to make a big speech on an important topic. This was really thrust upon him. So, it is awkward circumstances but I expect him to, at least, the White House says, he will embrace those and talk about them.

MONTAGNE: Well, this is an opportunity to speak to the whole world at once. Part of the reason he was given the prize was, according to the committee, that he inspired the world towards a certain amount of hope and perhaps peace. But his most skeptical audience would seem to be here at home. How would you imagine he would account for that in his speech?

LIASSON: Well, there is no doubt that his most skeptical audience is at home. Sixty six percent of Americans in the latest Quinnipiac polls said he didn't deserve the prize, and as a matter of fact, he agrees with them. When he was given the prize in October, he said he didn't deserve this award or he hadn't earned this award. And the optics of this are also very awkward. You know, he is going to be faded at this White Tie Dinner tonight. There is going to be a torch light parade. He is going to be surrounded by European elite in white tie and tails at a time when Americans are losing jobs and their homes, and I'm sure that he is going to discuss exactly that in his speech tonight.

MONTAGNE: Well, so we're talking, really, about�

LIASSON: Or his speech today, actually.

MONTAGNE: Today, really.

LIASSON: Tonight for Norway, but it's today for us, right?

MONTAGNE: Yeah. There is the big party tonight. But the speech comes much earlier in the day, and, in fact, we will be hearing about that later in this program. So, we're talking about quite a burden - honor bestowed more in open expectation, recognition, not so much of his achievements. There's just enormous pressure. I mean, has he said anything in - besides when he first got this speech, has he said anything to indicate the sorts of things he will say?

LIASSON: Yes, I think that he is going to repeat the sentiment that he expressed when he was awarded the prize - that he's humbled, he doesn't think he has earned it. It was an award for the aspirations of his presidency, it was an award for American values, American leadership and America's intent to reengage in the world. I think he's also going to talk about the war in Afghanistan. He is very good at finding intellectual common ground and kind of squaring circles. So, I expect he is going to make a reasoned, logical argument about why sometimes the pursuit of peace involves taking up arms.

MONTAGNE: And, okay, you've just mentioned that 60 some percent of Americans don't think he deserved the prize in a recent poll, and there are the cartoons, the political cartoons, the late night jokes; but of those others who seem to think that it's okay, I mean, are there Americans out there who are actually, you know, proud of this moment?

LIASSON: Well, of course, there are. And I don't think the president is going to dismiss this prize or reject it. I think he is going to try to use this opportunity. This is an opportunity, he is standing on the world stage. This is very prestigious prize, although he says he doesn't belong in the company of people like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. This is an opportunity for him to reaffirm American values and to talk about what he hopes to do and, you know, the aspirations of his foreign policy and his policies at home, and I think he will take that opportunity.

MONTAGNE: And we will find out for sure a little later in the program. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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