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A War President Accepts the Peace Prize

President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo today — and in doing so, he acknowledged the wars America is fighting and sought to justify his role in the Afghanistan conflict.

“Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars,” he said in his acceptance speech. “One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty-three other countries – including Norway – in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.”

Rather than focusing on the specifics of the war in Afghanistan, Obama outlined the general principles by which a nation might defend itself. Citing “philosophers, clerics and statesmen,” he discussed historical notions of “just war” and put the Afghan conflict in that category, despite a global “reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.”

The Nobel Committee’s decision to grant the award to Obama less than one year into his presidency has generated considerable controversy, and Obama reflected that in his acceptance by speaking to generalities and hopes for the future rather than past accomplishments.

“I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage,” he acknowledged. “Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.”

Now, many in the international community hope for Obama to live up to the prize with concrete successes. The first major test could come in Copenhagen next week, where world environmental leaders are looking to Obama to offer ambitious emissions targets for the United States and help to deliver a global agreement.

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