President Obama used the occasion of his Nobel lecture as he accepted the 2009 Peace Prize in Oslo on 10 December to defend the idea that war can be a legitimate means of upholding the larger peace, and specifically to argue that the US and allied war effort in Afghanistan is a just war. Did he convince?
The two-war president
It is part of what makes Obama such a magnetic speaker and attractive leader that he used his acceptance address not only to indicate his own awareness that the award comes too soon, before he has registered any but the most initial achievements for peace while in office, but also to grasp the nettle of the irony that he received the prize as a Commander-in-Chief of forces engaged in two wars and just after he had announced extra US forces will be deployed in Afghanistan.
He used that irony as the launch-pad for a spirited defence of the idea that war can do good, can, in fact, contribute to peace. This took him into territory where theory, ethics, policy and practice of government all inter-twine.
This is difficult and fascinating terrain over which some of the world’s major philosophers have travelled. It is different to engage in discussing these matters seriously and philosophically, rather than debating the questions politically. Looking closely at these questions often means dealing with unexpected nuances and distinctions.
Obama, then, used his Nobel lecture to engage with some of the fundamental questions of war and peace and, therefore, of government. Regardless of your view on the rights and wrongs of the US and allied war effort in Afghanistan, this was a serious argument that deserves serious attention. keep reading