Fresh on the heels of announcing more troops for Afghanistan and snubbing the Norwegian King, President Obama delivered a surprising speech accepting his Nobel Prize. He acknowledges that many have regarded the prize as undeserved, and went on to deliver a speech that must have left his left base upset. He actually defended the use of force:
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that 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.
He also defended America, not so subtly reminding the Norwegians that their liberation from the Nazis would not have come about via peaceful means:
I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaidas leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
Yet 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. 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 people's children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
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. The soldiers courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.
Now that he is president perhaps these issues look different to him. If so, that shows growth in office and is a very good thing. But I can't be certain that is what lies beneath this somewhat startling rhetoric.
It may be that this speech was aimed at his leftist supporters back home, reminding them that their opposition to his Afghanistan policies is grounded in the American tradition. Perhaps he is even inviting criticism from the far left. Attacks from the left could well help him appeal to the center of the American electorate, a group that has been moving away from approval of his job.
Such a political calculus could rest on the assumption that the left has nowhere to go but support him, when push comes to shove in 2012. So he could be engaging in a bit of triangulation, to use Dick Morris's term.
I await reaction from the leftist organs.