The Nobel Peace Prize is only rarely given to someone who has actually made peace. The first one, given in 1901 to the founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (which never does anything, but still exists) and the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross (which does a great deal). Among the other winners were Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela (shared with that great peacemaker F.W. DeKlerk), Jane Addams, Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu. Woodrow Wilson was given the prize after dragging the U.S.A. into the First World War, in the hope that his League of Nations would end war. Theodore Roosevelt won it for actually brokering a peace treaty between Russia and Japan. But mostly it is given as an aspirational award, recognizing less a person than that person’s ideas about how a peaceful world could be created. The committee gives it “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.” So it has always gone to hopers and dreamers.
Both the right and left are apoplectic about Barack Obama’s winning of the award: the right because they wake up every morning and sniff about for something new to hate him for, and the left because he hasn’t ended human suffering in the past ten months. Each side misses the point: Obama won because he represents an idea–that the United States of America cannot and must not act as if it is the only power on earth. That alone gave the committee sufficient reason to endorse his young and as yet unproven agenda.
The award, given during a week in which the dogs of war are gathered at the White House to figure out how to extricate America from the quagmire of Afghanistan, has less a sense of irony than a sense of hope. If Obama is successful, Afghans can decide if they want to live in under a democratic government or not. If he is successful, Iran will rejoin the civilized world, North Korea will not longer be a thugocracy and Iraq can figure out if it should be one or three nations. If he is successful, the world can breathe a little easier and go back to working on the big problems facing the us: the elimination of extreme poverty and establishment of human rights globally.
The Nobel Prize was not just given to Barak Obama, it was given to the United States of America, not because of what we have done, but because of what the world hopes we can do. We are finally back at the place where much of the rest of the world looks to us once again for leadership. What kind of leadership we give is up to us.
Se let us be grateful for this American moment. It matters, for us and for all humanity.
4 thoughts on “Why the Nobel Matters”
I think the Right got the point of the award for the idea “that the United States of America cannot and must not act as if it is the only power on earth” and they were not happy about it. I suggest that Obama's approach to world diplomacy is wishful thinking and makes the very peaceful goals you mention less probable. It's a world view shared by the Norwegians running the Noble organization. They gave it to Obama because he shares their world view of diminished America influence. I prefer a President who first looks out for and defends American interests. Another way to view the “dogs of war” is the defenders of women and children.
I would submit that wishful thinking is invading a country with the idea of making it a carbon copy of America without ever bothering to understand its history, its culture, its politics, its religion, or its people.
The modern incarnation of the right has no concept of soft power. They can't conceive of finding common ground, outwitting an opponent, or any solution that doesn't involve threats or blowing things up.
Conservatives have this mentality of If-we-do-it, by-definition-it-is-right that actually works against us and our best interests.
You want diminished American influence? Let's go back a year, a year!, when at a G-8 conference, nobody would even shake Bush's hand. This president won the Nobel Peace Prize. When he talks, the world will listen.
Kevin, I agree that the Right advocates imperialism, not republicanism. And that the Nobel Committee shares Obama's view of diminished American influence over other nations.
Republicanism and imperialism cannot co-exist in the same national constitution, anymore than avarice and purity may co-exist in the same human breast. For either the ideal of self-determination for all nations will be exalted or the lust to dominate other peoples will be fulfilled.
American interests do not include imperial hubris. I prefer a President who understands that.
How does Obama's world view make peace less probable? Peace built at the barrel of a gun whether that gun is loaded with conventional bullets or economic bullets is still a forced peace. Peace will only last when it is built by consensus and when every party to the peace has a stake in its maintenance.
I understand the discomfort that people have with America loosening its hegemony on the world stage. I feel that same discomfort. But as of late, how we have chosen to use that power has damaged the world, our credibility worldwide, and our safety at home. How? By entering into two wars we have drained our treasury and alienated friends and allies. By giving into base desire for safety and vengence we have tortured innocents and enemies alike despite our founding principals to be and do better. By torturing, we have given aid and comfort to our enemies by giving them a rallying cry to arms, by giving them a righteous cause, and by proving that their notion of America as the devil by showing the world that our lesser demons are winning the war against our greater angels.
America needs to revitalize itself on the world stage. We need to restore confidence in American leadership, and remind the world that we have the moral underpinnings to wield the power which we currently possess. Having an open dialogue with the world does that very thing. Working on nuclear disarmament does that very thing. Reaching out to fringe nations to come back into the international fold does that very thing. We as a country are on the track to restore the US as the greatest peace making nation in history. What we do next will define our legacy. Getting back on track this far is why Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The President was awarded the prize because of our ability as a nation to be the greatest tool to promote peace in the world. And we have not been that for some time now. And under Obama's leadership we are turning the corner to being that presence in the world again.