October 10, 2009
As an American abroad, it seems I haven’t been able to go a few feet these last couple days without being asked, Do you think Barack Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize?
They go on. Don’t you think it’s too early? Don’t you think if it was anyone else – say Hillary Clinton – who had done what he has done, that he or she would not have been chosen? What has he done?
Obama’s presidential accomplishments are hard for many to grasp because they have mostly been of a qualitative rather than quantitative sort. The modern mind, in a world where capitalism is king, has a difficult time grasping qualitative successes. If Obama had been attributed with saving five million lives or decreasing carbon emissions by 18 percent or boosting investment in poorer countries tenfold, then there would have been fewer hisses in response to his winning the Prize.
For a true sense of Presidet Obama’s achievements we have to remember the kind of world he inherited. A world that had grown cynical of global (read, US) leadership; that had become polarized; that began using the Bush Administration’s loose morals as an excuse to rationalize their own. Countries had lost interest in working together for the common good. The standard under Bush was to resist cooperation just to spite one’s enemy.
We remain at a critical juncture in the history of the world. But Barack Obama is successfully motioning us in a new direction. He has gotten leaders to sit around the same table and work intently to find solutions to nuclear proliferation, climate change, and the global economic crisis. Russia’s leaders say they are making “considerable” progress toward reaching agreement with the US on a new strategic arms treaty. The Arab street has grown quieter; so has Hugo Chavez. Even North Korea is showing (real?) intent to cooperate. Obama has handled Iran adroitly, not ruling out military action and sanctions, at the same time not acting out in a way that could be co-opted by the regime. Under Obama’s watch, the sewers of hate have found fewer takers. He is a role model in a global political landscape largely bereft of them – he is showing the world there is a better way.
Going by the Nobel’s will – that the Prize be awarded to the person who “during the preceding year … 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” – it’s hard to think of an individual more deserving this year than President Obama. Among those I’ve debated whether Obama was the right choice, none were able to name a convincing alternative.
On the matter of whether anyone else achieving what he has would have been granted the Prize – in other words, if style over substance had something to do with the victory – I say, you can’t separate who Obama is from what he has accomplished. He has brought a very special and timely temperament to the job. He has not allowed himself to be goaded by powerful provocateurs at home or abroad. He has conducted himself with humility and sincerity. Who he is, not just his policies, is engendering trust and cooperation. And who he is here has nothing to do with being the first of his shade to hold power in the Oval Office. The irrelevance of that becomes apparent when one stops to consider what he wouldn’t have accomplished – and by turn what his chance of winning the Nobel Peace Prize would have been – were his temperament not what it is.
What’s bad for the Republican Party is Good for America
The Republicans have taken to refuting anything that has Obama’s stamp on it, even his pitch to bring the 2016 Olympics to America. They would take Bush back before settling for Obama if they could. They find themselves resorting to the twin engines of fear and intolerance to convince what’s left of their hysterical base that Obama is selling America down river. But with the new president leading America out of the darkness that befell the country under Bush, it’s a harder and harder sell. As the New York Times’ conservative columnist David Brooks noted a week prior to the issuance of the Peace Prize, “[The Republican Party] is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness.” The volume has hit a piercing pitch as the party has grown more desperate: health care reform is socialist, the Democrats are communists, Obama is a racist or a Muslim or not a citizen or all three. Looking at the evidence, even the staunchest Republicans governed by a modicum of logic would have to wonder how rational all this muddled rage is. Then Obama wins the Nobel. Now what? Rush Limbaugh was found grasping for straws when he couched Obama’s award in conspiratorial terms. “George Bush liberates 50 million Muslims….Any awards? No, just derision. Obama gives speeches trashing his own country — and he gets a prize for it. This actually makes total sense when you look at who the Nobel people are, these elite Norwegians, Europeans. They love what Obama is doing. And this fully exposes, folks, the illusion that is Obama.” There is no illusion, Rush, that much of the world and a majority of Americans, according to opinion polls, approve of Obama, that more countries are cooperating with the US since Obama came to power, that America’s soft power is on the rise. The only visible loser in all this appears to be the Republicans. No wonder they are fuming all over again.