Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize/Goad

I just heard about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

My first thought was, “Wow! Cool!”

My second thought is, “I hope he earns it.”

In the five minutes it’s been since first hearing the news, the few comments I’ve heard, both in pro and anti Obama camps, is puzzlement about why the president would receive this award after being in office only a few months.

I’ll throw out one possible answer, one that I think makes some sense.

I suspect the award is meant more as a goad than as a reward. Obama’s vision for the world and America’s place in bodes well for a move toward a more peaceful planet where even the most entrenched enmities might be transcended. At the very least, we can hope that we try for such transcendence before relying on the half-measure of compromise or the utter failure of war. Peace is no longer a dirty word, as it often has been in this country of late.

Having said that, Obama is considering ramping up troop levels in Afghanistan. The occupation of Iraq continues. Abolishing nuclear weapons is something that’s talked about, but hasn’t been done.

A few months into office, Obama is now having to make the actual decisions that will determine whether the reality of his presidency lives up to the rhetoric. I think the Nobel Prize committee knows this. By giving him the award, the committee also has placed a heavy burden on Obama’s shoulders: to live up to the epithet “Nobel Peace Prize Winner.”

While not impossible, it will be harder for “Nobel Peace Prize Winner” Barack Obama to send more combat troops to continue an occupation of a foreign country than it would for merely “President Obama.” It will be harder for “Nobel Peace Prize Winner” Barack Obama to cave in to pressure to deploy expensive and pointless weapons systems around the world than it would for “President Obama.” It will be harder for “Nobel Peace Prize Winner” Barack Obama to turn a blind eye to extraordinary rendition and torture than it would for “President Obama.”

To those who think that this prize is givens way too early, I agree insofar as the prize is meant to reward past actions. But if we see this action for what (in my opinion) it is, a persuasive act aimed moving Obama to fulfill the promise of peace he’s spoken about, I think the award, coming at just the time when the rhetorical rubber is hitting the road of reality, potentially does more to foster peace than it would if given for actions done five, ten, or twenty years ago.


1 comment:

  1. I don't think we can underestimate the sense of joy and hope just his election has sparked in the rest of the world. With so much of the world living with the legacy of colonialism and oppression, that the grandson of a Kenyan goat herder could rise to the most powerful position in the world swells hearts worldwide. My in-boxed was filled with emails from Africans that included everything from prayers to poetry. His election gave them hope not only that HE could bring change, but also that THEY were capable of bringing it, too. And the importance of the Cairo speech can't be underestimated. Past presidents have said basically the same thing, but the person of Obama made it seem revolutionary. There is something about his character and his rhetoric that inspires people to hope. That's surely worth some sort of recognition.