Mr. Obama began his speech by attempting to rationalize the obvious contradiction of a wartime president accepting a 'peace' prize. He downplayed the occupation in Iraq he has prolonged, distanced himself from the one he just redefined and escalated in Afghanistan, and declared himself responsible for, and "filled with questions" surrounding his sending of 'young Americans' to fight and die abroad.
Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. 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.
In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations — an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize — America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide and restrict the most dangerous weapons.
Nonetheless, the president next acknowledged the civil, ethnic, and sectarian conflicts around the world, which he observed are on the rise, without mention of our own nation's part in fueling, funding, and deliberately or clumsily exacerbating many of those into perpetuity.
In Iraq, the war that the president insists is 'winding down', our nation's invasion and overthrow of the sovereign government was the catalyst to the chaos and civil and sectarian unrest and violence which was punctuated last week with the killing of over 120 civilians by a lone bomber. Our military forces' inability to stifle or eliminate the killings there, despite our "surged-up", lingering occupation is a less than ringing endorsement of some inherent wisdom behind the opportunistic exercise of our dominating, devastating military forces abroad.
The president admitted his own lack of a 'definitive solution' to it all. Absent that solution, the president says we must be prepared to act when we feel that war is 'justified'.
Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts, the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies and failed states have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed and children scarred.
I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.
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.
It's obvious what the president is alluding to here. There aren't many who would question America's pursuit of justice in the wake of the 9-11 plane crashes. Chasing bin-Laden and his cohorts into Afghanistan, and the rout of his Taliban accomplices to Pakistan was a reasonable response to most looking on.
Yet, there's a question of how much of the president's militarism today in Afghanistan can be justified as part and parcel of that original pursuit; or even integral to some defense of our national security as defined in the original authorization to use military force. That didn't stop Mr. Obama from casting his self-escalated role in Afghanistan as a menage between King, Gandhi, and his inner warrior.