I was as surprised as anyone by the announcement of Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this morning. And some of the same thoughts occurred to me as to many others: Already?
I'm not going to attack or defend the particular award to Obama, since I don't really have a dog in that fight. There are plenty of deserving people, and probably someone “deserved” it more than a President who has been in office 9 months.
But there seem to be arguments cropping up that assume that the Nobel Committee is a bunch of naive, effete, soft-headed Euro-snobs charmed and flattered by the smooth-talking, charismatic, multi-lateral Obama.
What if that's not true? What if we assume they're clear-eyed realists — not that they're right or perfect, but that they know what they're doing? What if they anticipated the criticisms now being leveled at them, and decided to go through with it anyway?
There are some lines of argument that need to be addressed:
- Obama's award is somehow anti-American. How can awarding a prize to an American President be thought of as anti-American? (I mean, seriously, WTF?)
Those of us on the left may view Obama's re-committment of the US into multi-lateral negotiations and diplomacy as simply good sense, and view the Bush years of unilateralism as a historical aberration. The Nobel Committee seems to feel that the kinds of things we take for granted from Obama — eg. that he thinks nuclear proliferation is a bad thing — are not, and indeed have not been slam dunks in American policy.
We had eight years of Bush, who endangered the world eight ways from Sunday. The Nobel Committee can be forgiven for not feeling that American good sense is inevitable.
- The Nobel Committee is being “blatantly political.” Well, duh. And not for the first time. Peace is always political. If war is politics by other means, then peace is just … politics. You either jaw-jaw or war-war.
It is easy to think of a Nobel Peace Prize as the closest thing to secular sainthood; but it is not awarded to saints. In the case of Yasser Arafat and Yitzak Rabin, their prize was intended to encourage the work in which they were currently engaged; to demonstrate that the reputed conscience of the world community honored their risk-taking in attempting peace.
Was their work not controversial in their own countries? Didn't Rabin pay the ultimate price for his courage? Was he not killed for political reasons?
If war and violence are political, then peace is political.
- Obama should refuse the prize. Precisely what would that accomplish? Would it demonstrate that Obama's an aw-shucks kind of guy? That he doesn't think of himself as some kind of celebrity? Well, so what? Sounds like envy to me, and like we should get over ourselves for about five seconds.
Here's part of his statement today:
“I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures” who’ve won previously, Obama said in the White House Rose Garden today. “I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.”
Humble? Yes. But it's also the right idea: Use it! (Or lose it.)
- Conservatives will have a field day! Gosh, I hear Rush Limbaugh “pounced” on the news that the President of the United States won probably the biggest honor in the world!
Again … so what?
Over the last eight years, conservatives have set on fire whatever credibility they may have ever had on issues of war and peace — from Iraq and WMDs to global warming; from North Korea to nuclear non-proliferation. Exactly what shall I learn from Rush Limbaugh, John Bolton or Michael Steele today?
You can read conservatives' reactions here, which boil down to “What has he done?” Well … I can tell you he hasn't started an unnecessary, immensely costly war — at the expense of the war we already were engaged in.
Again, good sense should not be taken for granted. We could do worse, and we have done worse.
… Rather than project our own ideas onto what a Nobel Prize ought to be, maybe we should listen to a past winner:
In Vienna, former International Atomic Energy Agency, said Obama has already provided outstanding leadership in the effort to prevent nuclear proliferation., director general of the
“In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself,” ElBaradei said. “He has shown an unshakable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts. He has reached out across divides and made clear that he sees the world as one human family, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.”
Well all right. That's not the ending of anything, it's the beginning. This award is not a “canonization”. It's a call to action. Good enough for me.