This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Just when it looks like Barack Obama is getting dragged under for the third time by angry domestic politics, he bounces back up – in Norway, of all places – and reminds us why Americans elected him in the first place.
The president’s remarks while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Thursday strengthened the case for giving it to him, though maybe not in ways expected by those who most applauded the decision.
When the prize was announced in October, there was speculation that the socialist-leaning Nobel committee was trying to co-opt him toward a Euro-leftist foreign policy – wary of American power and laced with pacifism. If that was the plan, it didn’t work.
Obama on Thursday delivered the unanswerable rebuttal to those who argue that war only begets more violence and can never be justified. In two words, Adolf Hitler.
“I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people,” Obama said. “For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies … 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.”
The president immediately turned his guns on the “reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.”
Obama was talking to Western Europe, where that reflex existed decades before George W. Bush exacerbated it. The president pointedly noted that, “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.”
Many Europeans hate to be reminded of their debt to United States, which helped prevent both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union from dominating the continent. The refresher may be easier to take from Obama, widely seen abroad as representing the highest American ideals.
Obama also appealed for more European support in sanctioning rogue nations with dangerous ambitions. He scolded governments who’ve gone soft on Iran and North Korea: “Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.”
It might almost have seemed a bellicose speech but for his forceful insistence on restraints on force, especially American force. Citing rules of conduct, prohibitions on torture and observance of the Geneva Conventions, he said, U.S. values are honored “by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.”
Handed Europe’s most prestigious forum, Obama’s delivered an assertion of American leadership, an argument for a muscular American foreign policy, and a defense of military interventions shaped and constrained by American ideals. Two months ago, many called his Peace Prize premature. On Thursday, some members of the Nobel committee may have entertained the same thought.