Thursday, October 22, 2009

What’s so wrong with Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize?

On October 9th, 2009, the Norwegian-led Nobel Peace Prize selection committee picked U.S. President Barack Obama to receive its highest honor. They awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize, from a field of 205 nominees. According to the Washington Post’s online edition, the Committee chose Mr. Obama because “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.”

Judging by the reaction in the press and punditry, the sense is that Mr. Obama’s selection was, at best, premature, and at worst some kind of insult to both Nobel Laureates and the three former U.S. President’s who have won the prize. After all, President Carter had to wait 22 years after he left office to be rewarded for his significant achievements in Mid East peace.

We all want to be rewarded for hard work, and like it or not the jury is still out as to how much Mr. Obama will accomplish. Given that he has occupied the White House for a less then 300 days, this selection does appear hasty (to say the least).

Still, Mr. Obama has done a few things that break from precedent. He has embraced Muslims on the world stage in a way that no American President in recent memory has – Mr. Carter being the notable exception. Mr. Obama has also rolled back many of the worst policies from the 2008 Bush Administration, while flatly refusing the take up any of the policies of the 2002-2003 Bush Administration (like torture). And in Afghanistan, he is taking the time to hear as many views as he can – which in itself represents a significant break with “business as usual” in Washington.

Beginning now, press accounts of Mr. Obama’s future success (I hope there will be many) will start with “President and Nobel Laureate Barack Obama . . .” and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Certainly, the Nobel Committee has laid down an accolade, but they’ve also laid down a gauntlet. Let’s hope that this carrot will lead Mr. Obama to fulfillment of all of his promises to America, not just the politically expedient ones.

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