Interview, September 2013
President Barack Obama describes the dilemma of being a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and, at the same time, considering an attack on Syria. From a joint press conference together with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt at Rosenbad in Stockholm, Sweden, on 4 September 2013.
President Obama: I would refer you to the speech that I gave when I received the Nobel Prize. And I think I started the speech by saying that, compared to previous recipients, I was certainly unworthy. But what I also described was the challenge that all of us face when we believe in peace but we confront a world that is full of violence and occasional evil. And the question then becomes, what are our responsibilities?
So I’ve made every effort to end the war in Iraq; to wind down the war in Afghanistan; to strengthen our commitment to multilateral action; to promote diplomacy as the solution to problems. The question, though, that all of us face – not just me – our citizens face, not just political leaders – is at what point do we say we need to confront actions that are violating our common humanity?
And I would argue that when I see 400 children subjected to gas, over 1,400 innocent civilians dying senselessly in an environment in which you already have tens of thousands dying, and we have the opportunity to take some action that is meaningful, even if it doesn’t solve the entire problem may at least mitigate this particular problem, then the moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing.
But it’s difficult. This is the part of my job that I find most challenging every single day. I would much rather spend my time talking about how to make sure every 3- and 4-year-old gets a good education than I would spending time thinking about how can I prevent 3- and 4-year-olds from being subjected to chemical weapons and nerve gas.
Unfortunately, that’s sometimes the decisions that I’m confronted with as President of the United States. And, frankly, as President of the United States, I can’t avoid those questions because, as much as we are criticized, when bad stuff happens around the world, the first question is what is the United States going to do about it. That’s true on every issue. It’s true in Libya. It’s true in Rwanda. It’s true in Sierra Leone. It’s now true in Syria. That’s part of the deal.
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