December 10th, 2009

Obama’s Nobel speech

I’ve said before that I don’t think much of speeches in general, unless the speaker happens to be Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln.

Obama is neither. But I certainly can’t criticize him for that particular failing. And the text of his speech today on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize appears to be far better than his usual. Somewhat surprisingly. it offered the most robust defense of American military action I’ve ever heard him give:

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 non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason…

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.

Perhaps Obama offers these words at this time because he feels the need to defend himself, since he’s just ordered more troops into Afghanistan. Still, the words are good ones, long overdue for this particular president. The problem is that they are just words, and this is just a speech—and Obama has given many other speeches, and spent much of the first year of his presidency, contradicting them.

22 Responses to “Obama’s Nobel speech”

  1. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    Well put! Credit where credit is due.

    Now, here’s a question: did he believe in what he was saying? As much, shall we say, as he believed his West Point speech, or the one he gave right after the Ft. Hood shooting?

    Time will tell. In the meantime, if he’s really talking convincingly about the importance of American military might — in Europe! — then the Nobel committee might themselves want to take his prize back.

    Daniel in Brookline

  2. Steve G Says:

    His 2004 convention speech was an eye opener for me, as it made all the right conservative noises. I could not believe that the speech was given at the Democrat convention. So, he knows how to include conservative talking points in his speeches (which is why, no matter how poorly he performs i office, he will remain a tough candidate in 2012) but he dismisses them as passe. If there is one thing I have learned after watching this guy for a few years it’s that nothing he says he means.

    When Lincoln gave a speech it came from the heart, Churchill’s came from the gut. Obama’s come from the lower intestines.

  3. Occam's Beard Says:

    Man-child growing up? Hope dawns.

  4. Giles Says:

    If he supports fighting Germany during the second World War, then why not fight Iran, Venezuela and the other global troublemakers? If confronting dictators is America’s job, then he’s been doing rotten so far.

    – G

  5. Gearson Says:

    Neo, just a heads up: the link to “the text” of the speech is the same as the link pointing to your previous post about speeches in general. BTW, first time poster, but I’ve been reading your stuff for several months now. Love your work.

  6. expat Says:

    OT observation: Germany covered Obama extensively today. Herta Mueller got brief coverage in the nightly news shows. The other winners were not mentioned. Dreams are their reality.

  7. Megaera Says:

    I strongly suspect the whole speech was sort of a well written finger in the eye of the Peace Prize committee. C’mon, Zero issuing a paean to war? The creepy bastard Never does things without a motive (like dissing some excessively white Scandinavian monarch, while bowing through the floor to one “of color” as the favored locution of the day now has it), and that has to have been utterly intentional. Utterly insincere, of course — he meant nothing by it but the open insult to his hosts which they were compelled to receive like a public slap, one I suspect he rather enjoyed delivering.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    Gearson: Thanks, I’ll fix it.

  9. Tom Says:

    The speech is consistent with my theme that as POTUS he now does what he wants; HE gives the orders. Own him, who? Soros? Arrgh, snarls Baraq: I am the President. I revoke all IOUs.
    So he’s thrown us one cheap flower with this part of his speech. BFD.

  10. nyo Says:

    force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason…

    Oooooh the field-a-far increments he demonstrates he is teachable, by the dawns early light.

  11. NeoConScum Says:

    Easy as pie to show some faux guts to a bunch of Norwegian pacifists. The REAL Obama will show himself, I’ll bet’cha a Lexus, at Copenhagen where the World Leftist Idiocracy is gathered to overeat, over drink and to spread their elitist-superior emissions. There His Majesty will expose some very obvious ideological-secular religion ponzi climate-global gov’t hooey.

    Easiest LS460 I’ll ever win. Promise.

  12. CV Says:

    I’m glad he said what he did, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was another example of his expediency.

    Unfortunately, I think he’ll say whatever he thinks he needs to say to advance a particular goal (in this case justifying his recent actions and defending himself. It’s sad, but even when I hear him say the right thing, as in this situation (the first third of his speech) I question his sincerity.

    He simply never strikes me as someone who speaks from his heart and deepest convictions.

  13. betsybounds Says:

    Neo, I think you are exactly right to be, at a minimum, cautious about this speech. I, myself, do not believe anything he says–not because I think he lies all the time, but because he lies enough times to have severely tarnished his own credibility. And of course we have to consider his audience–which, in the event, was only partly the assembled Scandinavian leftists. He knows he’s in trouble at home.

    I thought early on in his administration, and may have said so here before, that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him exercise at least some modicum of military power–many Left leaders do (they mainly like to be pacifists when the goal is to persuade other nations to adopt the pacifist program). The old Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea, and some others have exercised the Left agenda at home at the same time as they work hard to maintain a projection of strength militarily, and abroad. Obama may be aiming for a bit of that, and we may see him grow increasingly comfortable with it. After all, it’s his military now.

    That being said, I don’t imagine for a moment he’ll relax his leftward drive on the domestic front, and I think the dangers there are pretty darned immediate. And that will be the case no matter what he says in any particular speech. If he needs Congressional support to exercise military muscle internationally, there’re always the Republicans to help. And of course American military might could come in handy in supporting the global Left’s goals–like, um, the Copenhagen program.

  14. waltj Says:

    Nice words. We’ll see soon if he meant any of them. For our country’s sake, I hope he did.

  15. JR Dogman Says:

    A must-listen. All of it.

  16. camojack Says:

    “The problem is that they are just words, and this is just a speech—and Obama has given many other speeches, and spent much of the first year of his presidency, contradicting them.”

    It was a very good speech…but then, Obama makes good speeches. Talk is ultimately cheap, and actions speak louder than words. Time will tell; I hope he is growing into the office, but life has made me a skeptic, and thus far Obama hasn’t done anything to change that…

  17. soupcon Says:

    Barry counts on an endless well of credulity from his listeners,like supposed thinkers such as Max Boot.His speeches can give a good vibe immediately, but ALWAYS require a third of fourth reading over the next 72 hours to catch all the false arguments,contradictions, and historical inaccuracies.Those hasty first impressions help to set the meme and the Axelrod team work to massage the spin and assorted media luminaries who want to tell us what it all means.

  18. Channeling His Inner Neocon: Did the Nobel Speech Launch the Obama Doctrine? | All That Is Necessary... Says:

    […] 24 hours, I’ve watched one conservative after another find things to praise in the speech.  Neo-neocon (not an Obama fan) called it “the most robust defense of American military action I’ve ever […]

  19. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    It wasn’t as good a speech as all that. It compares very well, from a neocon perspective, to his other speeches… but that’s not saying much.

    He spoke of armed conflict — which is apparently not so terrible a thing sometimes; who knew? — as though he had just discovered it. He said that he was sending “thousands of young Americans” into battle, as though it’s the first time he’d ever contemplated having to do that… after wanting to be President all his life. (He’s also off by a factor of ten, even if you only count the Afghanistan “surge”, and not the hundreds of thousands already deployed, for whom he is also responsible.)

    And then he presumed to give the world a freshman-level lecture on what war means. (Perhaps the Norwegian Nobel committee needs such a lecture, although I doubt it. But when addressed to the world, as his speeches often are, he sounded silly and juvenile. I was reminded of a child speaking to an adult, with all the authority of something learned in grade school that day.)

    His inaccuracies are also those of a rank amateur, at best. He claims that WWII might have the best claim to being a ‘just war’, even though more civilians than soldiers died. That sort of moral equivalence — one dead civilian considered the same as another — turns my stomach. Were the German civilians inadvertently killed during Allied bombing raids equivalent, in President Obama’s mind, to the million Leningraders who were starved to death by the Nazis? Are we supposed to count Allied civilian casualties together with Holocaust victims, or the civilians caught in Allied cross-fire together with the Bataan Death March? Disgusting.

    (He also says “soldiers” in this context and others… which would offend me were I a sailor, airman, or Marine. It’s a standard mistake for someone who has never served to make, like calling a sergeant “sir”… but the President’s speechwriters are supposed to know better.)

    “I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war.” Nobody expected you to, kid — except maybe yourself and Michelle.

    There are many more such points, large and small. What they add up to is this: the man knows nothing of war, nothing of the military, nothing of military responsibilities to allies… and is just now beginning to wake up to his need, as Commander-in-Chief, to understand these things. So he lectures us, on the assumption that these new revelations he’s been having will be new to us, too.

    (If you like, try this exercise. Imagine yourself as a member of America’s armed forces — if you happen not to be one –in uniform, fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or holding down the DMZ in Korea or patrolling the waterways or the skies. Imagine you’ve been on the front lines for years, facing people doing their best to kill you. Now read the speech again… and count how many times you, as a warrior, find yourself shaking your head and saying “no sh!t, Sherlock!” or the equivalent.)

    Is President Obama beginning to wake up to the enormity of the responsibility he’s shouldered, the vast gulf between the real world and the one he imagined in undergraduate bull sessions, and the tremendous costs if he screws up? Perhaps he is. I hope he is… although I’m not at all optimistic.

    Daniel in Brookline

  20. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    That these statements are better than previous statements is clear. References to “armed conflict” and its justification are now on permanent record in the catalogue of Nobel speeches – that’s also good. Whether this represents a dawning awareness of the magnitude of his responsibility remains to be seen. It could happen; the man is not stupid. So this is a better-than-worst scenario. As Daniel points out, however, it is far short of the understanding he needs to have, and developing that much insight that quickly is unlikely. It is the sort of understanding one would hope to see in a young liberal within the first few years out of school.

    Still, he said it. The world listened. It may be milk-and-water, but at least it is not all water.

  21. Obloodyhell Says:

    > A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies.

    Nominally correct, HOWEVER — an action showing a willingness to commit violence WOULD have stopped Hitler cold.

    His generals and advisers were so nervous at his aggressiveness that they were willing to depose him if the French had so much as placed a company of troops on the bridge into the Alsace-Lorraine, and said “No!”. This has been revealed by papers which have since come available.

    The result of being willing to fight would have been not having to fight.

    As anyone with experience knows, the bully prefers easy prey. Stand up to them and you will not get beat up every week, as the second time they will choose an easier target unwilling to fight at all.

    It would have, quite possibly, been the end of Hitler and with a very different universe resulting today.

    Obama’s “Be Nice” is, in fact, the most utterly wrong tactic to take, as Bill Whittle details in his Afterburner piece on PJTV —

    Game Theory and a Losing Strategy: Obama’s Bad Judgment With The Prisoner’s Dilemma

  22. Jamie Says:

    betsybounds, you say in part, “not because I think he lies all the time, but because he lies enough times to have severely tarnished his own credibility.”

    I have a different interpretation…maybe. I’m thinking there may be a method to the “lying enough times” thing. I don’t think President Obama is a particularly subtle person, nor his intelligence particularly scintillating (I’ve been underwhelmed, anyway)… but maybe in telling both truth and lies in a confusing mix, he’s hit on a strategy that works. Is it possible to suffer from “judgment fatigue”?

    I mean this: If we’re inured, over time, to never knowing for sure what’s truth and what’s lies, might we get tired or overwhelmed with the effort of evaluating each statement, and eventually just apply some rule of thumb – “President Obama is telling the truth because he’s wearing a red tie today,” or “President Obama is telling the truth because he’s talking to union members”? Or, worse, might we just become apathetic about exercising judgment? It’s the “boy who cried wolf” idea: too many false alarms, things that we think might be lies that turn out to be true, and the Big Lie never gets checked. Are we being softened up?

    But I’m still not sold on the idea that President Obama has a particular Big Lie in mind, our good hostess’s growing suspicions notwithstanding. (I can’t say I’m not suspicious; just that I’m not sold.) At the moment I’m still leaning toward “President Obama is a ruthless and essentially amoral pragmatist who doesn’t yet know whether he’ll need this tool, but he’s darn well going to have it ready, just in case.” Like the Missionaria Protectiva in Dune, seeding the inhabited planets with religious myths for the someday, possible use of a random Bene Gesserit in distress.

    (I hope I haven’t just squandered any credibility I might’ve had… Loved the book, was bewildered by the incredible badness of the movie.)

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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