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Topic A: Obama's Oslo speech

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Post solicited opinions on what the president should say when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday. Below are contributions from Scott Keeter, Danielle Pletka, Strobe Talbott, Jessica Mathews, Ed Rogers, Randy Scheunemann, Donna Brazile and Wangari Maathai.

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SCOTT KEETER

Director of survey research at Pew Research Center

Hanging over President Obama's appearance in Oslo will be reminders that a majority of the U.S. public does not think he deserves the award, as well as the irony of accepting a peace prize just days after announcing a major escalation in the Afghanistan war. But the president's main challenge -- in the speech and long afterward -- will be in persuading a skeptical American public that the world needs robust leadership from the United States.

Although the Nobel committee said its decision was based on Obama's efforts on disarmament and international dialogue, many observers saw it as a prod for how he ought to conduct his foreign policy. And, indeed, the publics of many of our allies say they expect Obama to be more multilateral, to be fair in dealing with the Middle East and to take significant steps to address climate change.

Yet the president's ability to meet these global expectations collides with the reality that Americans are increasingly focused inward. New Pew Research polling finds a sharp rise in isolationist and unilateralist sentiment among the public. At the same time, there has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence of global warming. And the public is, at best, divided about Obama's Afghanistan policy, with the greatest resistance among his political base.

DANIELLE PLETKA

Vice president of foreign and defense policy studies, American Enterprise Institute

Pity President Obama, who, despite impressive attainments at a young age and an apparent comfort with the cult of personality that surrounds him, must surely be aware that he has done little yet to earn any peace prize. Let us not unjustly prejudge him; he may one day merit the prize, but that day will not be in 2009. So he should acknowledge the honor bestowed and his unworthiness by dedicating the prize to those who this year did so much to advance the cause of peace.

There is no shortage of deserving candidates: the people of Iran, who did their utmost to take back their nation; specifically, Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who gave her life to speak her mind and whose murder finally stirred the conscience of the Obama White House; or Rebiya Kadeer, the president of the World Uighur Congress, a victim of Mao's Cultural Revolution and a tribune of peaceful resistance and hope for Muslims in communist China.

Perhaps, however, in light of the president's brave decision this week to send 30,000 additional troops to carry out his Afghanistan war strategy, Obama should say that he is accepting the prize on behalf of the men and women of the United States military, who have done more to keep the peace in this world than any other military and who sacrifice every day not to their own greater glory or for pecuniary gain, but for the Stars and Stripes that are beacons of peace and liberty year in and year out, fools in Oslo notwithstanding.

STROBE TALBOTT

President of the Brookings Institution; deputy secretary of state, 1994-2001

President Obama will be receiving the world's most prestigious peace prize nine days after announcing his decision to escalate an increasingly unpopular war. He can either avoid this inconvenient fact altogether, mention it in passing while focusing on more Nobel-friendly subjects, or tackle the irony head-on. He can do that by using the bully pulpit to explain why he must also use the big stick -- two phrases made famous by the first American president to win the prize, Teddy Roosevelt.

Obama's message would be that the violence breeding in renegade regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan threatens world peace to a degree that justifies -- and, in his view, demands -- the violence of coordinated international military action.

This is not what the Nobel Committee expected -- or wanted -- to hear from Obama when it awarded him the prize in October. In fact, it's similar to what George W. Bush might have said in the unlikely event that he had gone to Oslo after invading Iraq. Indeed, Obama is getting the prize in no small measure because he's the un-Bush. But while Obama inherited the Afghan mess from Bush, it's his mess now. He, like Bush, has bet his presidency on a war. He needs to use every opportunity, including the one coming Thursday, to raise confidence that he will succeed where Bush failed -- and that he has a powerful rationale for asking other nations to help.

JESSICA MATHEWS

President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

President Obama's message in Oslo should be what the United States ought to expect of itself -- and of others.

Obama's toughest foreign-policy challenges in 2010 lie at home. He has to sell and sustain a renewed commitment to the war in Afghanistan, bring Congress to meaningful action on climate change and usher critical arms control and nuclear test ban treaties through the Senate. So, while a Nobel Peace Prize seems the occasion to address an international audience, he must use this opportunity to make the case to his domestic constituency on what the United States must do to confront the three great present challenges to world peace: nuclear proliferation, climate change and the allure of radical Islam.

To be convincing at home, he must also be plain about the limits on what the world should expect from us. U.S. leadership is plainly necessary, but these are global struggles. The United States must act to restrain carbon emissions, and so must India. Washington has to rebalance its policies to help forge an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Arab leaders bear an equal responsibility to adjust theirs. The U.S. commitment to put out the fires that threaten the world in Pakistan and Afghanistan can succeed only with the help of NATO partners and a willingness by China to shoulder an equal burden there. U.S. efforts to avoid a nuclear Iran must be matched by Russia's if they are to work.

ED ROGERS

White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of BGR Group

From a domestic political standpoint, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo is an exercise in damage control. Since it would be preposterous for the president to use his speech to try to legitimize the idea that the decision was based on his personal merit, this is a political salvage operation. Time to cut your losses, make some lemonade, etc.

He should say, "I can't accept this, but America can. America's sacrifice for world peace deserves recognition, and those Americans who have died for the cause of peace deserve it more than others. I will place this award on a permanent display at Arlington National Cemetery. I will direct that there be no mention of me or my administration on its presentation."

After that he should never mention it again, lest it remind people of the embarrassing collective swoon that the world did for Obama. Sort of like how my generation feels about our dress and behavior during the disco era. It never happened; let's move on.

RANDY SCHEUNEMANN

President of the consulting firm Orion Strategies; served as director of foreign policy and national security for McCain-Palin 2008

When he stands up in Oslo, I can only hope that the president will say: "I stand before you today honored to be the recipient of this prize, yet humbled because I am not deserving. I realize this award is aspirational, and I choose to accept this prize by giving credit to some of my predecessors who made great contributions to the cause of peace. Ronald Reagan took office at a time of malaise and economic recession, yet his vision and policies laid the foundation for the peaceful end of the Cold War. George H.W. Bush shepherded the peaceful reunification of Germany and liberated Kuwait. Bill Clinton ended the bloodshed in Bosnia and stopped the killing in Kosovo.

"My presidency is still young. When it is over, I will have earned this prize if I can cite contributions as lasting -- if my policies have secured peace, security and freedom for the Afghan people; if Iran has not acquired nuclear weapons; if North Korea is denuclearized; and if Israel and Palestine live side by side with security for their peoples. Finally, I accept this award on behalf of the men and women of America's armed forces who have contributed so much to peace and security throughout the world."

DONNA BRAZILE

Author and political commentator; manager of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign

At this moment, when so many people have no interest in peace, I would like to see the president take this opportunity to inspire people around the globe by outlining his vision for diplomacy and peacemaking in this century. I'd suggest something like: "Ladies and gentleman, I am honored and humbled by this prestigious prize, one that has been bestowed upon far greater visionaries and leaders than me; men and women who gained, always for others, freedom, peace, equality, human rights and justice.

"Today, I accept this prize on behalf of those dedicated to seeking peace, from Somalia to the Middle East. I accept it on behalf of those who have joined together to protect our planet against manmade dangers, from climate change to nuclear proliferation. And I accept this prize on behalf of those who seek an end to human suffering in Sudan, in Burma and especially in the war-torn North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is cheaper than bullets but just as deadly, and has left 30 percent of the 200,000 women and girls assaulted there infected with HIV.

"This prize, this year, was given not to one man but to all of mankind. It is our call to action, and we must answer it with a global response to work together and believe once more that we all share responsibility for this planet and for one another."

WANGARI MAATHAI

2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; founder of Kenya's Green Belt Movement, a grass-roots organization that aims to reduce poverty and conserve the environment through planting trees

What President Obama should say: "The world needs to move toward an understanding of peace and security that is not based on national interests and national security but, rather, on compassion and empathy. In this vision, individuals are able to meet their basic needs, enjoy basic freedoms and live in a clean and healthy environment.

"Throughout the world, ordinary people risk their lives for these values against all forms of aggression -- often in vain. This prize inspires hope in millions of people, and I am honored to be its recipient at this time in our history. I pledge to put the pursuit of human security at the forefront of the policies of my administration. To realize our shared vision of world peace, I will need the support and cooperation of friends, allies and fellow citizens."


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