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Nobel Peace Prize (The Obligatory Response)

This came as a surprise.  Not an entirely welcome one — though certainly not an unwelcome one — but a surprise nonetheless.

Across the leftist blogosphere, the general consensus has expressed itself in words like “undeserved,” “premature,” “meaningless,” “idiotic.” I don’t necessarily agree.  As the Norwegian Nobel Committee pointed out, Obama has made an extraordinary change in the tenor of American foreign relations; after the macho, hawkish, we-go-it-alone-because-you’re-all-cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys paradigm of the last century or so, Obama’s genuine effort to relate to other players on the world stage is a breath of fresh air.  And I don’t know if this will prove to have any genuine effect on international policy (I’m inclined to rather doubt it, based on, among other things, the proposed escalation in Afghanistan and the seemingly stagnant Middle East peace process), but with this radical shift in expression, there is greater hope for a globally conscientious America than there has been in a very long time.  Corollary to that, the paradigm shift in Obama’s rhetoric is now a precedent, as the hawkish superpower macho-man stance became in the early years of the 20th century; presidents after Obama, seeing the warm reception of global inclusion and respect, may take it to ever-greater heights.  And after a few terms of this (or a few dozen), we might very well see America grow into a new role in the world — as quiet mediator, not overbearing drill sergeant.  Likewise, I don’t even need to explain that such a paradigm shift might be increasingly reflected in actual policy, making for a more tolerant, less aggressively capitalist, more peaceful, and yes, more liberal society.

It would also be a grave oversight to shrug off the immense spiritual impact Obama has had on a vast swath of Americans, and on the political world: the reintroduction of hope into a pessimistic, same-old-same-old sea of disillusionment.  Again, however much it is justified by actual policy (and I’m not sure I can pass judgment on that quite yet), such a breath of fresh air has itself been a radical sea-change in the way many of us view our country, our world, and our own personal and global futures.

That being said, I do believe this prize was undeserved — in part because the above is not necessarily enough to qualify Obama as, in the words of Alfred Nobel’s will, “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  A shift in expression, however dramatic, is rarely enough to have an immediate and profound effect, certainly not enough to qualify as “the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.”  Obama’s actual policy has regrettably paled in comparison to his outreach in terms of peace, though I hold out hope that this will change; his stance on the wars in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, Iraq, his seeming blindness to the rights of the LGBT community, and his seeming reluctance to challenge the free market system (not to mention his shameful refusal to meet with another Nobel Prize winner, the Dalai Lama) all make me wonder if he has done enough yet for “fraternity between nations” or within his own nation to qualify.

The point will be raised, inevitably, that the Peace Prize is meant not necessarily as reward but as encouragement to continue; I can’t disagree with that, and it certainly makes the choice of Obama a little less oblique.  But it seems to me that such a prize would be better awarded, like the Macarthur Genius Grant, to a figure with a) a grander mission, b) a more immediately tangible effect, and c) less name recognition/prestige/relative global support.  The prototypical Nobel Prize awardee, in my mind, would be 1992 recipient Rigoberta Menchú Tum; her struggle for the rights of Guatemala’s indigenous population was grounded and hands-on, with immediately tangible manifestations, but she was an unknown enough figure globally that a Nobel Prize could help garner funds and support for her cause.  In this case, the prize was effective encouragement to continue a noble battle; Obama is well-known and popular enough that the prize is, under this particular criteria, virtually irrelevant.  Better to award it to one of the many tireless, brilliant humanitarian organizers in the world right now than to send it off to an already prestigious, not-yet-effective sitting president.

All that said, I appreciate the Oslo nod to a transformational American figure; it is a fitting emblem of worldwide hopes for a changing American role, and one that I hope will inspire Obama to, domestically and abroad, follow through.


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  1. * Alex says:

    Perhaps one of the most obvious reasons that it’s undeserved is Barack Obama has failed to a), slow down the progress of America’s wars, and has even escalated the undeclared war in Pakistan, b), stop playing favorites in the world of nuclear non-proliferation by still going after an Iranian nuclear weapons program that may or may not exist and giving Israel the silent go ahead to continue nuclear weapons hoarding ( and, c), amidst these more-of-the-sames with America’s war policies, nuclear double-standards, and failure to bring about any kind of new strategy toward peace in any region of the world, the newfound hope that Barack has instilled in the American people for their government, is at best neutral, but realistically speaking, is a step back for world peace. When Barack Obama passes himself off as a transformational figure, and changes nothing major in American policy, he can only be a destructive force adding a little bit of short-term credibility to those who trust him in a longstanding imperialist propaganda war… but god damn, he is good at it.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 9 months ago
  2. * Dirty Commie says:

    A sea change? Really? All I see is business as usual. The wars coninue. Obama’s just another conservative colonialist who only looks good by comparasion to Bush. There’s no way he deserves this, not while troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the Nobel prize has lost almost all of its meaning since Kissinger got one. He was a war criminal, but at least he negotiated a treaty. Obamaa hasn’t done anything like that. He might, but its way too early. This sort of thing only makes the Nobel institute look even more stupid and makes the Far Right hate Obama more than they already do.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 9 months ago
    • * thoughtfulrevolution says:

      Alex and D.C. —

      I think it should be pretty clear that I agree with you. I just phrase it more subtly and with, you know, that thing called perspective. 🙂

      Seriously, though, your points are absolutely valid, though I don’t agree that having rewarded Kissinger automatically makes the N.P.P.s a farce. I also am not inclined to agree that Obama’s rhetoric is actually taking us a step back — rhetoric without action can be inspiring nonetheless, and can (and has already) inspired others to fulfill the rhetoric where the original speaker did not. And though, as should have been made clear, I believe that the Nobel Peace Prize was undeserved, I can see how Obama would be perceived as having made a significant contribution.

      Thank you both for making your presence known! I’m so happy to hear from y’all.

      | Reply Posted 8 years, 9 months ago
  3. * Alex says:

    Yes, but what has all of this “hope” and “change” rhetoric really inspired anything outside of undeserved trust of the US government? I agree that rhetoric without action can be inspiring, but rhetoric with contradictory action just serves to dupe those who can’t read between the lines. I suppose I could’ve phrased that better earlier.

    Let’s not forget that not only are the troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan but Barack Obama has escalated the undeclared war in Pakistan… US imperialism isn’t even evening out under Obama, it’s expanding.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 9 months ago
  4. * Alex says:

    Rhetoric without action can inspire people to arms, but in this case the disillusionment is being lifted from the wrong things… The US government is still doing the same evil things that it was doing under Bush that got us so disillusioned from them. The fact that Americans were briefly waking up to what the US government has been doing for decades upon decades is a good thing. Disillusionment in this case is appropriate, when people fully distrust their government and understand that it is not serving them, they can begin to understand that real change needs to be accomplished. Barack Obama’s ability to restore faith in the government to our people has the potential to produce another generation as incapable of independent thought and understanding of the real world around us as cold war America. It is counter-productive.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 9 months ago

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