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Obama Defends Afghan War in Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

BY Larisa Epatko  December 10, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland and President Obama. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel peace prize Thursday in Norway, saying compared to past recipients “my accomplishments are slight,” and acknowledging he leads a nation in the middle of two wars.

“I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility,” President Obama said at Oslo City Hall. “It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations — that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.”

He also acknowledged the criticism his receiving the award so soon in his term evoked, and the fact that he leads a nation in the midst of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 43 other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks,” he said.

The president went on to express the need to find alternatives to violence when dealing with nations that break rules and laws, while stressing the pursuit of human rights, a nuclear-free world and stabilizing countries that are dealing with terrorism.

In his speech, Mr. Obama also emphasized the need for nations to work in concert to pursue these goals, which is a characteristic of his foreign policy, said Trudy Rubin, worldview columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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“I think he hopes that he will not be described in history mainly as a war president but that might have a chance to strengthen these institutions and the international regime on controlling nuclear weapons and might be seen as somebody who strengthened this international network of rules,” she said.

The view from abroad of President Obama’s foreign policy differs greatly depending on the region, continued Rubin. There is a generally warm feeling in Europe but a sense of disappointment in the Middle East.

“I think there was overheated expectation in the Arab world that Obama would be able to live up to his early pledge of kick-starting Israeli-Palestinian talks. Those have gone nowhere,” she said.

A feeling of suspicion toward the United States permeates Pakistan because of the war in Afghanistan and the impression that the U.S. is more partial toward India, Rubin continued. And in Asia, people are trying to gauge whether the United States will be involved in the region and how the relationship with China — a rising economic power — will develop, she said.

Hear Rubin’s full description here:

 

Text of President Obama’s speech as released by the White House.