Obama’s Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

President Barack Obama on Thursday delivered his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. Already there has been much analysis, and Stephen Walt has called for us to ignore the speech, describing it as “thoughtful, self-effacing, nuanced, balanced, eloquent, lucid, well-delivered, etc. etc. (yawn)” but “suggest[s] we focus our attention henceforth on what he actually does.”

But Daniel Drezner beat me to the punch, noting that Obama’s speech illustrates many concepts and theories in international relations, including realism, Neoliberal institutionalism, social construcivism, democratic peace theory, feminist IR theory, and human security, among others. He actually suggests that it would make a great final exam question for professors wrapping up the semester.

Drezner is certainly correct, but what struck me most about Obama’s speech was the irony. Just days after he announced a massive increase in the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, he is in Stockholm accepting the Peace Prize. In his speech to the committee, Obama 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 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.

He may well be right, but it’s certainly an interesting way to accept a speech promoting peace. And while it may be presented in a more elegant light, the underlying policy reflects the same priorities and goals as the previous administration espoused.

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