WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is accepting the world's best-known peace award as a wartime president, an incongruity that he will directly speak to when he receives the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday, White House officials say.
The president departed Wednesday to Oslo in an overnight flight, in time to be there for the award ceremony and banquet, and not much more. His minimalist approach reflects a White House that sees little value in touting an honor for peace just nine days after Obama announced he was sending 30,000 more troops to the war in Afghanistan.
The contrast has been stark for weeks. Obama won the award in early October, just as his review of a revamped war plan was intensifying. He and two speechwriters pivoted attention to the Nobel address the very day after Obama announced he was escalating the U.S. forces in Afghanistan to their highest levels.
So Obama, honored for strengthening international diplomacy, will use his speech to discuss what goes into the decision to expand a war.
Asked if Obama was excited about the award, national security aide and speechwriter Ben Rhodes responded: "I think he feels as if it places a responsibility upon him."
"It's the company that you keep as a Nobel laureate that I think makes the deepest impression upon him," said Rhodes, who is helping craft the president's speech. "That kind of adds an extra obligation to essentially extend the legacy."
The president is expected to outline his vision of American leadership and emphasize the responsibilities of all nations to advance the cause of peace.
He was considering lots of ideas for the speech and was likely to winnow them and hash out a final draft aboard Air Force One on the flight to Norway, where the peace-award-in-wartime irony hasn't gone unnoticed.
Peace activists in the Norwegian capital plan a 5,000-person anti-war protest on Thursday. Protesters have plastered posters around Oslo featuring the image of Obama from his iconic campaign poster, altered with skepticism to say, "Change?"
Demonstrators plan to gather in sight of Obama's hotel room balcony — where he is expected to wave to a torchlight procession in his honor — and chant slogans playing on Obama's own slogans, foremost among them: "Change: Stop the War in Afghanistan."
Obama's selection for the award by the Norwegian Nobel Committee was such a stunner that even the White House had no idea it was coming. Obama quickly said he didn't think he deserved it, and that it was really meant to boost a new U.S. approach to world affairs.
The list of Nobel peace laureates over the last 100 years includes transformative figures and giants on the world stage. They include heroes of the president, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and others he has long admired, such as George Marshall, who launched a postwar recovery plan for Europe.
"The president understands and again will also recognize that he doesn't belong in the same discussion as Mandela and Mother Teresa," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said while discussing the president's speech Wednesday.
Obama is writing much of the speech himself. He has been reading the Nobel speeches by past winners to help shape his thinking.
Amid the enormous worldwide reaction to Obama's win, the prevailing response was almost confusion: He won for what, exactly?
The Nobel panel cited Obama's work toward freeing the world of nuclear weapons, combatting global warming, embracing international institutions and leading based on values shared by most of the people around the world. On that front, he was deemed nothing less than "the world's leading spokesman."
But back home in a nation struggling with war and recession, the White House is respectfully but quietly viewing this as a one-speech trip, in and out.
Obama will not do a full-scale news conference or a traditional post-ceremony interview with CNN.
As part of the festivities, Obama will offer remarks at a formal dinner banquet, where he will be joined by Norwegian royalty. Yet Obama leaves Oslo on Friday and will be long gone by the time an elaborate concert featuring celebrity musicians takes place in his honor.
The Nobel honor comes with a $1.4 million prize. The White House says Obama will give that to charities but has not yet decided which ones.