David Usborne: President gave both friends and foes plenty to chew on

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The Independent Online

"Oslo" has been etched into the Advent calendars of every conservative nut-job in the land. What fun they would have on 10 December, when the Europeans would swoon and faint in front of Saviour Obama, who in turn would accept that preposterous Peace Prize with a well-meaning but quite vacuous speech about bridge-building and dialogue.

So the disappointment was severe when they discovered he had outmanoeuvred them yet again. What Mr Obama in fact did, in the view at least of Joe Klein, the veteran Time magazine commentator, was treat his Oslo audience to "an intellectually rigorous and morally lucid speech that balanced the rationale for going to war against the need to build a more peaceful and equitable world". Happy-clappy and naive it was not.

Mr Obama gave a good impression of a man saying words he believed and had given serious thought to late into many nights. Unlike his speech last week on the troop surge at West Point, he was not navigating between domestic political constraints. This was a speech from a leader that was not about pandering or appeasing. Yet at home, it may help him anyway. It offered Democrats unhappy about the surge a look at the philosophical underpinnings of the President's decision. And for Republicans, there were precious few holes to pick at.

But the other smart thing the President did in Oslo was to be rude. Many citizens were apparently either puzzled or infuriated by Mr Obama's decision to remain there for barely 24 hours, and to forgo many of the traditional events associated with Peace Prize Day. He did attend an evening banquet with the Norwegian royals, but he skipped a lunch with the King, as well as a news conference and a "Save the Children" benefit concert where organisers allegedly gave his chair to an Obama cardboard cut-out.

That was about domestic politics. "I still have a lot of work to do back in Washington, DC before the year is done," Obama said in a press conference with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. He has an economy to prop and a healthcare reform plan to edge through the last narrowing hoops on Capitol Hill. Throngs of adoring Europeans on America's television screens might have been harmless once, but not any more. It's much better this time that his hosts are a bit miffed, so Americans can think Obama is, in fact, more concerned about them than about foreigners.

Mr Obama knows his adversaries better than they know him, even from 4,000 miles.