The Obama speech after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize defines a new vision for a superpower seeking help against new kinds of threats.
A mix of idealism and national self-interest has often marked American leadership in the world. But not many US presidents have put the golden rule at the center of their foreign policy.
What President Obama calls the "law of love" – or do unto others as you would have them do unto you – was a focal point of his sweeping speech in Oslo after being awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday.
He often uses this religious idiom in his loftier speeches. It reflects a desire to give moral imperative to activist government – mostly at home. And he readily admits, after only 10 months in office, that his moral stances, rather than any concrete action, won him the prize.
But one particular action – sending more troops to Afghanistan even as he was being honored as a peacemaker – required him to speak of the differences between a "just war" and one waged outside global "standards that govern the use of force."
He painted the war in Afghanistan as one of self-defense for the United States and its Western allies – against what he calls "a few small men with outsized rage [who] murder innocents on a horrific scale."
But the US is not just any nation in citing self-defense. He used the occasion to remind the world that America, as a superpower built on universal ideals, has had to use force again and again over six decades to help "underwrite global security" out of "enlightened self-interest" but also often from a moral imperative.