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What can Nobel winner and war president Obama say about peace?

President Obama is headed to Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize. It's an awkward moment. Not only is he sending more troops to Afghanistan, but most Americans don’t think he deserves the award, a poll suggests.

By Staff writer / December 9, 2009

In this Dec. 1 photo, President Barack Obama speaks about the war in Afghanistan at the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Washington

President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize episode is almost over. Wednesday night, he will board Air Force One and fly overnight to Oslo, give a speech at the award banquet, and fly home Friday. No press conference, no sticking around for the gala concert in his honor Friday night.

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Obama does have a lot on his plate, and it hardly makes sense for him to spend much time in Norway. But his quick in-and-out, low-key approach also reflects the awkward nature of his surprise award, announced in October as he was beginning his review of war policy in Afghanistan and now received on the heels of his decision to launch a surge in the US military presence there.

The irony is not lost on the White House. And Mr. Obama, in his speech, will note head-on the fact that he is receiving the Peace Prize as a war president.

“The president will address the notion that last week he authorized a 30,000-person increase in our commitment to Afghanistan and this week accepts a prize for peace,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.

Obama's place

Obama “will also recognize that he doesn’t belong in the same discussion as [Nelson] Mandela and Mother Teresa, but I think what the president is proud of is the steps that this administration has taken to reengage the world,” Mr. Gibbs added.

In its statement awarding the Peace Prize to Obama on Oct. 9, the Nobel committee applauded the president for creating “a new climate in international politics,” including emphasis on the role of the United Nations and other international institutions. The committee also cited Obama’s “vision of a world free from nuclear arms” and the US’s stepped-up role on climate change. Obama will head back to Scandinavia next week for the climate change conference in Copenhagen.

“His strength is that he views international relations as a cooperative and hopefully collegial series of relations, and that the change from the neocons and from the Bush administration is that, we’re not here to tell you what to do, we’re here to talk to you about what we all should do,” says Peter Fenn, a Democratic communications strategist.

Protests expected

Still, Obama can expect antiwar and environmental protests even before he lands. Greenpeace activists have laid out a message – “Obama: our climate, your decision” – in giant letters near the airport in Oslo that they hope he will see as he lands, according to the Associated Press. On the sidewalk near his hotel, he will face more slogans, such as, “You won it, now earn it.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on Obama to use his acceptance speech to speak out on human rights, which they say he has soft-pedaled since becoming president.

The American people also remain unimpressed by Obama’s Peace Prize. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., released Tuesday finds that only 26 percent of voters believe he deserves the Nobel Prize, while 66 percent believe he does not. On the plus side for Obama, he gained 9 points in public support for the Afghanistan war over the past month. Now, 57 percent of US voters say fighting the war is the right thing to do.

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