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Obama accepts Nobel Peace Prize as he defends the need for war
Obama acknowledges the irony of receiving the prize as he orders a troop buildup in Afghanistan.
He lauds past winners' commitment to nonviolence but says he can't follow their examples alone.
By Christi Parsons
7:21 AM PST, December 10, 2009
Reporting from Oslo
President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize here today, acknowledging the irony of winning it as a wartime president and calling his own accomplishments "slight" in comparison to past winners.
But in his speech to the Nobel Committee, Obama spoke of the concept of a "just war" and the pursuit of a "just peace," which he said sometimes depends on more than simply refraining from violence.
Lauding the commitment of past Nobel laureates to nonviolence, Obama said that, as a head of state and commander-in-chief of a military at war sworn to protect and defend his nation, he cannot follow their examples alone.
"I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people," Obama said. "For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."
With his remarks, delivered in the brief sunlight of the Norwegian winter's midday, Obama answered critics who complain that he was receiving the award before he has really done anything to achieve peace.
The award also comes just days after the president announced a military buildup in Afghanistan, a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops which the White House hopes will disable the terrorist headquarters in the region and bring the eight-year war to an end.
In presenting the award to Obama, Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland argued that Obama has already changed the temperature in the international climate since he was sworn in in January, simply by insisting on negotiations and diplomacy first.
The committee didn't want to wait to voice its support for Obama's ideals, Jagland said, suggesting the award will help the president achieve his goals.
"It is now, today, we have the opportunity to support President Obama's ideas," said Jagland. "This year's prize is a call to action for all of us."
Obama accepted the award on those terms, calling his own accomplishments "slight" in comparison to past winners and others who he said deserve it more than he.
"Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the commander-in-chief of a nation in the midst of two wars," Obama said.
The war in Iraq is winding down, he said, and the one that he is ramping up in Afghanistan is one which the U.S. did not seek.
"Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land," Obama said. "Some will kill. Some will be killed.
"And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict, filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other," he said in a lecture delivered at Oslo City Hall.
Speaking before a large glass window, with the Oslo fjord visible behind him, the president praised the dignity of Burmese activist Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the bravery of Zimbabweans who insisted on the right to vote despite threat of violence and demonstrators who have marched against recent oppression in Iran.
"It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation," he said. "And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side."
But Obama also described a "just peace" as one that includes not only civil and political rights but also encompasses economic security and opportunity.
"For true peace is not just freedom from fear," he said, "but freedom from want."
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times