Obama Accepts Nobel Peace Prize In Oslo

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In his speech, President Obama said war is sometimes justified. The president picked up the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, Thursday. The ceremony comes days after Obama announced plans to send 30,000 additional troops to wage the war in Afghanistan


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


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama is in Oslo, Norway at this moment accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace. The ceremony comes days after the president announced plans to send 30,000 additional troops to wage war in Afghanistan, something the president addressed right at the beginning of this acceptance speech.

President BARACK OBAMA: And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict, filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace and our effort to replace one with the other.

MONTAGNE: That's President Obama who is now giving his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. Joining us to talk about that is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, Mara, the president has already tackled the fact that he's receiving a prize for peace as commander-in-chief of a nation at war. Tell us what more he's been saying.

LIASSON: Well, this speech was, I think, an incredibly important speech for the president, much more important than it would have been if he had given it before he made the decision on Afghanistan.

The first half of the speech was all about his decision to go to war and he tried to reconcile what he called these two seemingly irreconcilable truths: that war is sometimes necessary and sometimes it's folly. In other words, sometimes war is justified. And that's what he talked about today. I think if it had been given at another time, the speech would have been completely aspirational, just about all of the things that the committee gave him the prize for, that is what the second half of the speech was about.

But I think the president laid out a very clear argument for why sometimes you do have to take up arms. He said, evil exists in the world. That's a kind of statement you wouldn't expect to hear from him. He said, negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms and he's the president who's been associated with negotiations and engagement. That's certainly one of the reasons the Nobel Committee gave him this prize. He says to say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism, it's a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

This is an Obama the realist and Obama the American exceptionalist who says that America has a unique role. I think this speech will go down in history as an important speech in his presidency because it marked a turning point.

MONTAGNE: You know, we have a clip of the speech from that section that you're speaking of. But let me just, before we play it, I just want to say, the president did emphasize that he was standing there as a direct consequence of Dr. Martin Luther King's life's work. That is, he said he is - he is evidence of the moral force of nonviolence. But as you say, at the same time, he spoke of the necessity of a just war, and here's a moment.

Pres. OBAMA: We must begin by acknowledging a hard truth. We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations, acting individually or in concert, will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

MONTAGNE: So there, the realist, as you would say, Mara. Skeptics, speaking to them, here and abroad?

LIASSON: Well, certainly. I can imagine that the audience in Oslo is pretty skeptical. As a matter of fact, the only time they applauded was when he says we lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend, as if he was offering a hint of criticism of past U.S. actions. I think that's the kind of thing that was in the committee's mind when they gave him this award. That was kind of the end of the first part of the speech and the beginning of the second part.

But, yes, skeptics at home for sure. The war has been very unpopular. However, polls show that at least, for the moment, he's gotten the kind of typical bump that a commander-in-chief gets when he commits troops to battle and his Afghanistan policy is now much more popular than it was before he committed the troops to battle. But certainly, skeptics around the world and he had an important message for them: America cannot do this alone and peace demands sacrifice. And I think he was kind of saying, that means you, Europe. Step up to the plate and help us.

MONTAGNE: You almost as good as said that. And he's still speaking as we know, and so we will be catching up on the rest of the speech later in the program. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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