The speech in Oslo, Norway, drew the praise of Christian conservative leaders such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and political conservatives Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.
The focus on just war was stark in that Obama was accepting a peace prize, but he may have had little choice in discussing it, being that just days earlier he authorized an additional 30,000 trips to be sent to Afghanistan. Until the end, his speech received little applause.
"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes," he said. "There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."
Obama defined a just war as one that is waged as a "last resort" or in "self-defense," one in which the "force used is proportional," and one in which "whenever possible" civilians are spared from violence. He acknowledged that, throughout world history, just war theory was "rarely observed" but he said it is one which the U.S. has tried to follow.
He also pointed out that in many countries "there is a deep ambivalence" about using military action, "no matter what the cause." That ambivalence, he said, is sometimes "joined by a reflexive suspicion" of U.S. action.
"But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world," Obama said. "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 others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity."
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Obama's speech follows in the tradition of past presidents.
"The president's eloquent defense of America's role in the world as chief defender and guarantor of freedom and human rights over the last six decades should be reassuring to every freedom-loving person in the world and gratifying to all of those men and women and their families who have served and sacrificed in our armed forces to make that defense of freedom possible," Land told Baptist Press. "Further, the president's trenchant defense of the fact that there is evil in the world that must be confronted by armed force should reassure all Americans as we confront a deadly worldwide terrorist threat from a death cult that has taken root within Islam."
The first third of Obama's speech was "without question" his best foreign policy speech since he was inaugurated, Land said.
"It could have been given by Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton or Bush 43," Land said. "In other words, it was squarely in the bipartisan American tradition of defending freedom against totalitarianism that has united our foreign policy during the entire Cold War and beyond."
Obama said he has an "acute sense of the costs of armed conflict" because he is "responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans."
"Some will kill, and some will be killed," he said.
The president said he admires the non-violence teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. but that he "cannot be guided by their examples alone."
"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 non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."
Obama also called for the cooperation of other nations, saying that "American alone cannot secure the peace."
Gingrich and Palin, both of whom are weighing possible presidential runs in 2012, said they liked the speech.
"I thought in some ways it was a very historic speech," Gingrich told National Public Radio -- "having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn't be able to have a peace prize, without having force."
Palin told USA Today, "I liked what he said. In fact, I thumbed through my book quickly this morning, saying, 'Wow, that really sounded familiar.' I talked in my book, too, about the fallen nature of man and why war is necessary at times, and history's lessons when it comes to knowing when it is when we engage in warfare."
Author John F. Cullinan wrote on the conservative website NationalReview.com that Obama's speech was "a modest, welcome, and long overdue reaffirmation of American purpose and power as the essential underpinning of a more just and peaceful world order."
"President Obama could have and should have made a speech based on these two fundamental themes -- American exceptionalism and the just-war tradition -- well before Oslo," Cullinan wrote. "But he deserves congratulations for having done so, provided that he follows up by developing and applying these same themes -- and by imposing them on a recalcitrant bureaucracy."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Read Obama's speech at http://bit.ly/5TbSQg.
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