President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech was, I thought, a mostly pleasant surprise. It’s a long oration, too long, and there is much legitimately to pick at. But fundamentally I think Obama delivered a mostly thoughtful discussion (as these things go) of how to reconcile our lofty ideals with the existence of evil, and how to reconcile the occasional need to go to war (including at times for humanitarian reasons) with the tragic nature of any actual war.
In doing so, Obama nodded towards Gandi and Martin Luther King, but seemed to make most use of President Kennedy. He could certainly have done worse.
Most importantly, Obama seems to have learned how to speak to an international audience without apologizing for, or otherwise disrespecting, his country. Hence, this passage, the language of which has made it into other Obama speeches lately:
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. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
When President Obama travels abroad, he takes with him his left-liberal view of American and the world. Thus, for instance, he was never going to list Iraq, alongside the Balkans, as a place where we have nobly sacrificed to enable democracy to take hold. Nor should we expect him to; this is just an area of core disagreement.
However, we should expect that, when abroad, Obama will mute his differences with his domestic opponents and emphasize common themes. By and large, he did that today.