Editor’s Note: The Washington Post solicited opinions on what President Obama should say when he accepts the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo this week. Brookings President Strobe Talbott’s contribution is below.
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.