What in the World?!?!?!

I about fell out of my chair this morning when I began scanning the news feeds and realized that The Onion was not the news source on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. 


It’s the BBCThe Washington PostThe New York Times.  It seems – on the whole – to be very real news.

Not that the sources make it any less baffling. 

Alfred Nobel, the man responsible for endowing the five Nobel Prizes, the prize is to be awarded  “to 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”.  Part of the rationale for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama is “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”  What, exactly, are those efforts? 

Maybe that’s not an entirely fair question.  After all, the Nobel Peace Prize has traditionally been awarded primarily on the basis of demonstrated actions and accomplishments but, less frequently, also on the basis of the individual’s aspirations.   Considering the nominations for the prize had a deadline of eleven days after President Obama was inaugurated, he clearly wasn’t nominated on the basis of his actions, and in terms of aspirations, there was hardly much of a window to really get a clear idea of those.  Scanning a list of former Nobel Peace Prize recipients is a pretty awe-inspiring activity.  Lots of awards given for helping to negotiate the end of various wars and conflicts.  Even those who seem to be receiving an award as an encouragement have done a lot – or suffered a lot – on behalf of their cause. 

But primarily, the choice of recipient has demonstrated a valuing of contributions towards an international community.  The Nobel Peace Prize overwhelmingly has gone to those who – regardless of their domestic roles or accomplishments – created or furthered institutions of international law.  The League of Nations.  The United Nations.  These are only the best known.  There are plenty of other organizations, and their founders were favorites for Nobel Peace Prize awards.  What the Committee values is attention to the creation of an international governance, truly a global village sort of scenario, with individual nations setting aside a certain level of sovereignty in favor of a more powerful international governance. 

I think that this is the key to understanding President Obama’s win.  What he hasn’t done doesn’t matter, because he’s at least saying the sorts of things the Committee likes to hear.  The sorts of things that others in Europe have been mouthing – with greater or lesser sincerity – for years regarding the benefits of an international governance of some sort.  The United States has traditionally been the maverick nation resisting the binding authority of any outside organization, international or otherwise.  But in talking about greater committment to international agendas and multilateral decision-making, Obama offers the hope that the US will finally enter the fold and take a more appropriate – and more controllable – place in the United Nations. 

He claims that this award has “humbled him”, though receiving such a prestigious honor without actually having done anything to deserve it other than to make a bunch of promises that you have no direct control over the fulfillment of is likely not to humble someone, but contribute to further arrogance.  But it shouldn’t really even be a matter he considers much.  It seems clear that the prize this year is less about President Obama, and more a message from the international community, a carrot, if you will, to encourage the United States as a whole to continue down the path towards embracing a truly international form of leadership and power in the world. 

I tend to agree with those who argue that this award is as much a repudiation of former President George W. Bush’s approach to international issues as it is an endorsement of President Obama’s.  Unfortunately it will also have the effect of further polarizing politics in the United States, heating up the divisive, partisan attitudes that rule the day despite President Obama’s promises of bipartisanship (another promise he doesn’t really have any control over, so it’s hardly surprising it’s not working out).   Ironically, I’m sure that this Peace Award will only be grounds for more heated conflict and disagreement. 

Further, I think  the award is a rebuke to the more conservative elements in US politics and the US population.  If you wish to be accepted in the world community (ie Western Europe), you need to set aside some of your silly notions about things and embrace the broader, liberal, humanist philosophies of post-Christian Europe.  The rebuke is not solely against our former President’s policies or actions, but against the philosophical and even theological underpinnings which created them.  Against a country that, despite decades of attempted indoctrination, still understands the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution well enough to know that repudiating our roots and the ideals and beliefs that our country was built on will only ensure that we too slide into the vaguely nihilistic stupor that seems to grip the hearts of many Europeans. 

President Obama has some pretty big things to live up to.  I frankly wouldn’t wish to be in his shoes (and there’s no danger of that either, trust me!).  I would think it would grow frustrating to be admired as much for who you aren’t, as for who you may actually be.  Tragically, receiving this award at this point in his presidency is not going to lessen either of these issues, either for the President himself, or for those who remain skeptical of the future he claims to represent.

One Response to “What in the World?!?!?!”

  1. Nancy Campbell Says:

    Well said, Paul. This smacks of the “give everybody a trophy” culture that rewards mediocrity. I’m not suggesting that Obama is mediocre, but I AM suggesting that he needs to earn this award by his actions, and he simply hasn’t earned this yet. I agree that this is a message to the US, not an award based on actual merit.

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