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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 20:46 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 20:46 | SYDNEY

Obama's excellent Nobel speech

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11 December 2009 13:27

You may be among those who scratched their heads over the choice of Barack Obama as this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner. But even if he didn't deserve the award, you would have to acknowledge that, on accepting it, he at least gave an outstanding speech.

At first blush, Obama chose a strange theme — using this, of all occasions, to give a speech in defence of war.

But of course this speech was a defence of the doctrine of just war, and given Obama's recent commitment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he could hardly have avoided this theme without making the occasion look completely incongruous. So it's not surprising that he defended the role of armed force in preserving peace, but it is noteworthy that he did it so well.

What's most attractive about the speech is the recurring note on human imperfection, and the tragedy it inevitably brings:

...We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: 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.

...So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy.

...So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly.

...we are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best of intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

This reflects a level of moral maturity that is also apparent in Obama's inaugural, and which sets him apart from many of his admirers on the centre-left. As Martin Kettle argues in The Guardian, there's a puritanical streak on that side of politics which Obama does not have.

The recognition of human imperfection as being at the core of political activity also reinforces the argument that Obama is a conservative.

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