Much Longer Than Joe Pesci’s 1990 Oscar Acceptance Speech

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I’m not a big fan of political speeches in general, but I thought President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech today was unusually good. (If I were a speech-y kind of writer, like Rick Hertzberg, I’d have used a better adjective in the last sentence than “good.”)

After again acknowledging that he doesn’t really deserve the award–“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize–Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela–my accomplishments are slight”–Obama set out his foreign policy worldview.

Michael Crowley at TNR:

I agree with Chait and, to offer him some fancy synonyms, think this may have been the deepest and most elegaic speech of Obama’s presidency. But what a strange one it was. Obama is a man trapped amongst the contradictions created by America’s awkward place in the post-Bush world. Last week, Obama’s address on Afghanistan both escalated and promised an end to the war there. Today, Obama opened his Nobel Peace Price acceptance speech with a long disquisition on the nature of war and its necessity–complete with a brief survey of “just war” theory. (He even threw in a passage about the necessary role of coercion against states like Iran and North Korea that mess around with nuclear weapons.) I suppose it was the honest way to take such a prize at a time when America has about 200,000 soldiers occupying foreign countries. But it was something of a surreal exercise.

David Frum at FrumForum:

First Obama tells us how humble he is. Then he tells us that he is bending history in the direction of justice – a phrase that associates himself with Martin Luther King. Charming.

But it gets worse. The slightness of Obama’s achievements is (the president says) only a partial and lesser reason for the controversy over the prize. The “most profound” reason that the award has been so disparaged is … George W. Bush! Yes, Obama’s prize is controversial because the country is fighting two wars, one of which it did not seek – but the other of which we apparently did seek. Or rather – that George W. Bush sought.

While the one war is an effort of self-defense , the other is … not.

While the one war mustered an international coalition deserving of respect, the other mustered an international coalition that is … not.

When Barack Obama got word of the prize in October, he said he would accept “as an affirmation of American leadership.” But in Oslo he did not speak as leader of all America, but as leader of a party – and as a party leader who cannot refrain from snide insituations against the motives – not only of his opposite-party predecessors – but of all who worked with them, including the leaders of many allied governments.

William Kristol at WaPo:

“proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale….

“We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that 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.

“But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation,…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 non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.

“So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace….

“But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.”

— President Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize speech, Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009

“Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction….

“North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

“Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom….

“States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

“We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction….

“We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

— George W. Bush, State of the Union speech, Washington, D.C., Jan. 29, 2002

Daniel Pipes at The Corner:

Obama’s Nobel “lecture” offers critics the usual cornucopia of opportunities, but I shall focus on just two statements:

“I am the commander-in-chief of a nation in the midst of two wars.” And here I thought there were three wars. Obama’s two are Iraq and Afghanistan; missing is what George W. Bush termed the War on Terror and I call the “war on radical Islam.” Obama apparently reduces that third one to al-Qaeda and counts it as part of the Afghan war. His mistake has real consequences; long after American troops have left Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamists will be attacking and subverting us. If we don’t see their efforts as a war, we lose.

“Religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam.” Here, Obama follows his predecessor in presenting himself as an interpreter of Islam. I ridiculed “Imam Bush” for telling Muslims about true Islam and its distortion, and now I must ridicule “Sheikh Obama” for the same. He’s a politician, not a theologian. He’s a Christian, not a Muslim. He should steer completely clear from the topic of who are good or bad Muslims.

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner:

The president said some good things, but unfortunately, his long academic lecture on the nature of war itself had all the characteristics of we have come to accept from a Barack Obama sermon:

1) Verbosity (4,000 words plus!) and extraneousness (he finally even referenced the world’s farmers); 2) I/me exhaustion (34 times) and the messianic cult of personality; 3) the 50/50, split-the-difference trope; 4) the straw man: on the one hand there are realists, on the other idealists, and I Obama singularly reject this either/or dichotomy (as if no one else does as well); 5) veiled attacks on the previous administration; 6) reference to his own unique personal story; 7) good-war/bad-war theory of Afghanistan and Iraq; 8) the hopey-changy rhetorical flourish.

Is there a Microsoft program somewhere that writes these things out?

Peter Wehner at The Corner:

How individuals and nations travel that journey in an imperfect world, one inhabited by violent and malevolent men, is a question that has been debated and that people have struggled with throughout the ages. How can those who say they long for peace justify war? What makes war just? When can it be justified on humanitarian grounds?

President Obama’s Nobel address didn’t add to (or better articulate) what others have said about these matters. But that doesn’t mean Obama’s speech wasn’t impressive. It was, in terms of its ambition, in its willingness to address a morally complicated matter in a serious way, and in the judgments at which Obama finally arrived. He provided — for the first time, really — a strong moral justification for his decision to send troops to Afghanistan.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

How does a rookie President, having been granted the Nobel Peace Prize, go about earning it? Well, he can start by giving the sort of Nobel lecture that Barack Obama just did, 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. The first half of the speech, in which the President made the case for Just Wars, will be the part that makes news. It was especially notable because it was delivered to an elite European audience, denizens of a continent where the most vicious warfare conducted in the history of humankind has been replaced by a facile moral superiority (made possible by the U.S. force of arms during the Cold War). But Obama’s clarity would also have been useful last week when he gave a more grudging, less straightforward, speech at West Point, announcing his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Conor Friedersdorf at American Scene on Frum

George Packer in the New Yorker


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