WASHINGTON, D.C. — If nothing else, the American punditocracy largely agreed on one aspect of President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech: that it was eloquent.
In offering a tutorial on just war theory, laid out in clear prose and compellingly delivered, Mr. Obama and his speechwriters showed once again that they know how to knock one out of the park.
But more noteworthy is the largely positive, or at least hopeful, tone of reaction across the political spectrum. From conservative former House speaker Newt Gingrich to writers at the liberal Nation magazine, the insta-analyses found hope in Obama’s words, either in his justification for the war in Afghanistan or in his ultimate aspiration: to replace war with peace.
“I thought the speech was actually very good,” Mr. Gingrich said on the WNYC radio’s The Takeaway. “And he clearly understood that he had been given the prize prematurely, but he used it as an occasion to remind people, first of all, as he said, that there is evil in the world.”
Sometimes a need for force
Gingrich also applauded Obama for reminding the Nobel committee that there would be no peace prize without the use of force. “A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies,” Obama said.
Progressives upset by Obama’s decision to escalate US involvement in Afghanistan may not have given the president the A grades that some conservatives and others offered. But at the Nation.com, a reliable gauge of liberal thought, the reaction was not wholly negative — a sign, perhaps, that Obama still enjoys a reserve of goodwill among his base.
Nation writer John Nichols called the address “exceptionally well-reasoned and appropriately humble.” He then recommended the reaction of the Dalai Lama, who opted for a positive outlook: “I think the Nobel Peace Prize gives him more encouragement and also gives him more moral personal responsibility,” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader told Sky News.
Nichols also commended the reaction of Paul Kawika Martin, the policy and political director of the group Peace Action, who said: “Although Peace Action applauds him for stating a vision of a world without nuclear weapons and increasing diplomacy with Iran, we believe he has missed opportunities to advance nonmilitary solutions to conflict by dramatically increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and continuing the growth of the military budget. We challenge him to live up to the honor of being a Nobel laureate.”
‘An intellectually rigorous and morally lucid speech’
Joe Klein, a left-of-center columnist for Time magazine, writing from Oslo, was less grudging in his praise. He commended Obama for delivering “an intellectually rigorous and morally lucid speech that balanced the rationale for going to war against the need to build a more peaceful and equitable world.”
On the heels of Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional US forces into Afghanistan — an irony the president himself acknowledged up front — it may not be all that surprising that some conservatives were happy with Obama’s speech.
Cal Thomas, writing on FOXNews.com, applauded Obama for this line: “We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.”
Thomas called Obama “gracious” in mentioning other presidents — including Republicans like Ronald Reagan — who helped end past conflicts.
Dealing with ‘hard truths’
“But there will always be new conflicts because of the nature of Man,” Thomas wrote. “It is in properly diagnosing that nature that helps us deal with ‘hard truths’ and preserve our freedoms as others seek to take them away and oppress their own people.”
Other commentators advanced a point many have made since Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last week: that the president can at times sound an awful lot like his predecessor.
“Barack Obama’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize was a carefully reasoned defense of a foreign policy that differs very little from George Bush’s,” says Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writing at Politico.com.
“He is winding down one war, escalating a second, and stepping up the pressure on Iran. He is asserting America’s sovereign right to unilateral action in self defense while expressing the hope that this right will not need to be exercised,” Mead wrote. “If Bush had said these things the world would be filled with violent denunciations. When Obama says them, people purr. That is fine by me.”