Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

I was at my parents' house in suburban Detroit yesterday, taking care of some personal stuff, and then flew home to LA, so I didn't get a chance to blog about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

I was in the kitchen when my brother yelled out from the family room that Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. At first I thot he was kidding, but this is not the kind of thing that he would joke about. Not that my brother doesn't have an good sense of humor (he does), but this is not the kind of thing he would joke about. So as soon as I realized that this was for real, I started wondering, along with just about everyone else on the planet, just why he had won?

I am with most liberals that, while it's nice for Obama to win, it's a little early in his career. How can you top winning the Nobel Peace Prize? What does he do for an encore? I think Obama has done some things that will eventually bring peace, like opening up to Cuba and talking to Iran, but none of his initiatives have really borne fruit. There was a solid piece of news on the peacemaking front today; Hillary Clinton helped broker an agreement between Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations. It still has to be approved by their respective legislatures, but this is a major achievement. This was high on the list of famous historical grievances carrying weight in the modern world. So the Obama administration can claim one foreign policy breakthrough, even if it came after Obama won the Nobel.

I do have one bit of intellectual sleight-of-hand that I am using to frame why the Norwegians gave this to Obama so early in his career. Some people have criticized this as a political move. But that misses the point. Of course it's a political move: the awarding of a "peace" prize is by definition a political move, because it is recognizing a participant in some kind of conflict, usually armed, and those participants are usually associated with one side. There are exceptions that the Nobel committee has recognized: the Red Cross, Amnesty International, etc. But the very idea that those who advocate for the non-violent resolution of conflict should be recognized is an ideological one; most of us just happen to agree with that ideology, or with the recipients.

In many instances, by the time the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, it's clear which side should be recognized; the ones who have achieved peace. But not always; if the Nobel Peace Prize were only awarded to the victors after they had achieved victory, it would lose some of its efficacy. In politics, after all, timing is very, very important. It would also be boring if the only people who won were people in retirement homes. It is, at this point in history, utterly noncontroversial that Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize, but I'm sure there were people in this country who disagreed with that at the time. And I'm sure Dr. King found the awarding of the prize very useful.

So we should not be surprised that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee made a political statement with the awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. They make a statement every year. The timing is unusual, and, honestly, not that great. I will freely admit that, even as a hardcore Obama supporter, his list of accomplishments is a little thin. I am hopeful that Obama can prove decisively that diplomacy is not merely an alternative to the use of force in international relations, but actually a more effective one. The best thing that Obama can do for the world is to prove that conservatives are wrong on that score. But he hasn't done it yet, and so five Norwegians look like they are making statement about their preferences in American politics, rather than recognizing specific achievements.

But who are we, as Americans, to complain about people in other countries meddling in our internal affairs? Conservatives are particularly hypocritical in this regard, considering they advocate for the use of force in meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.

There is one upside for Obama: it completely wiped the Chicago and the Olympics from the news.

The Norwegians have made a bet that giving Obama the Nobel Peace Prize at this point in his career will pay off. It is an unusual and risky move. But it is also a gutsy one, and it took a certain amount of courage to make this political move. Which, I believe, is what the Nobel Peace Prize is all about.

No comments: