Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize for Obama

This is like the reverse of what happens when a band wins the Best New Artist Grammy when they've released 10 albums. I'm sure that Obama himself thinks this is hasty. And he pretty clearly reflected that in his statement this morning:
To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace. But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build, a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.
I also know from the way the world of books reacts to the Nobel Prize for Literature that these are often controversial decisions, and – this is most important – decisions that don't have an awful lot of effect on what the kids call "the real world." With that in mind, I round up a bunch of responses below, the way Andrew Sullivan does from time to time, starting with Sullivan himself. I don't see how you turn down an award like this – as some below (like George Packer) suggest – without making things more awkward. Even if you think it's the worst decision ever made, you can't blame Obama for it. Anyway, I honestly won't spend much time thinking about this myself, but here are the thoughts of several others, all of which I agree with to some extent:

Andrew Sullivan:
I don't think Americans fully absorbed the depths to which this country's reputation had sunk under the Cheney era. That's understandable. And so they also haven't fully absorbed the turn-around in the world's view of America that Obama and the American people have accomplished. Of course, this has yet to bear real fruit. But you can begin to see how it could; and I hope more see both the peaceful intentions and the steely resolve of this man to persevere. This president has done a huge amount to bring race relations in this country to a different place, which is why the far right has become so vicious in attacking him and lying about him. They know he threatens their politics of division and rule. He has also directly addressed the Muslim world, telling some hard truths, and played a small role in evoking a similar movement of hope and change in Iran, and finally told the Israelis to stop cutting their nose off to spite their face.
Rod Dreher:
The Nobel committee has awarded Obama its Peace prize for the grand achievement of not being George W. Bush. I don't see any other way to explain this decision. Again, it doesn't reflect poorly on Obama, but rather on the Nobel committee, which looks petty and political.
George Packer:
President Obama should thank the Nobel committee and ask them to hold on to the Peace Prize for a couple more years. The prize should be awarded for achievement, not aspiration, and so far Obama’s main achievement has been getting elected President, which is in a different category. He shouldn’t contribute to the unfair accusation that he is all talk by accepting an award based on speeches he gave in Berlin, Prague, and Cairo. Europeans’ relief in seeing the last of George W. Bush and their adoration of Obama are entirely understandable, but in the U.S. we've moved on from November 4, 2008, and these days Obama is — in a way that's both inevitable and healthy — a working President, with his share of troubles and mistakes, who is trying to get some difficult things done but hasn’t come close to accomplishing them yet. This seems like a prize for Europeans, not Americans, and I worry that at home it will damage him politically by reinforcing the notion that he is — and will be — a world icon rather than a successful President. I don’t mind him being the former, but I most want him to be the latter. Not even a Rookie of the Year is ready to be elected to the Hall of Fame. I’m afraid this prize will be bad for Obama. For political reasons and on the merits, he should paraphrase Shakespeare to the Nobel committee: “As you shall prove me, praise me.”
Joe Klein:
There is a slight whiff of condescension attending the announcement that Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. There is the sense that he has won simply by not being George W. Bush. Effete Europe is congratulating rowdy America for cleaning up its act and not bringing guns to the dinner table. . . . Well, I'm as relieved as anybody that the Bushian gunslingers have been given the gate and, as regular readers know, I'm a big fan of patient, rigorous diplomacy – and there's a certain lovely irony to any prize that brings the Taliban and the neoconservative Commentary crowd together in high dudgeon – but let's face it: this prize is premature to the point of ridiculousness.
Michael Russnow:
I am generally a supporter of Barack Obama. I voted for him and campaigned in print for his election. However . . . [T]he Nobel Peace Committee has been accused in the past of trying to make a political statement, and perhaps, because they admire Obama and his groundbreaking presidency, in addition to his earlier anti-war statements and recent speech to the Muslim world, they are, by this action, hoping to jump start his ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why else give him the honor now? Whatever one might feel about Obama, he has not earned this singular award.
Glenn Greenwald:
His willingness to sit down and negotiate with Iran – rather than threaten and berate them – has already produced tangible results. He has at least preliminarily broken from Bush's full-scale subservience to Israel and has applied steadfast pressure on the Israelis to cease settlement activities, even though it's subjected him to the sorts of domestic political risks and vicious smears that have made prior Presidents afraid to do so. . . . All that said, these changes are completely preliminary, which is to be expected given that he's only been in office nine months. . . . People who live in regions that have long been devastated by American weaponry don't have the luxury of being dazzled by pretty words and speeches. They apparently – and rationally – won't believe that America will actually change from a war-making nation into a peace-making one until there are tangible signs that this is happening. It's because that has so plainly not yet occurred that the Nobel Committee has made a mockery out of their own award.
Spencer Ackerman:
[T]urning it down would be a slap in the face to an international community that is showing, in the most generous way possible, that it wants the U.S. back as a leading component of the global order. The issue is not Barack Obama. It’s what the president represents internationally.
Matt Welch:
[T]his selection illustrates the United States' way-too-oversized role in the world's imagination. And it shows how people – almost touchingly – remain suckers for likeable politicians who replace guys they hated, investing in them a kind of faith mere mortals usually don't merit. As Chili Davis famously (and presciently) said about Dwight Gooden, "He ain't God, man."


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