Friday, October 9, 2009

Not So Noble Nobel Peace Prize

President Barack Obama being awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize is akin to me winning a Pulitizer Prize in journalism. Neither one of us accomplished enough to earn it. The world's most prestigious award is diminished to the level of an Academy Award nominee finishing fifth.

Hey, Obama talks the talk but has failed so far to walk the walk. The Saturday Night Live spoof that he has accomplished nothing is closer to reality. It pains me to say that because I have been a faithful advocate and patient admirer for Obama since his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

"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," according to the Nobel committee award statement.

The White House press office claimed Obama had no knowledge he was nominated shortly before the Feb. 1 deadline less than two weeks after he was sworn into office.

Man, talk about the audacity of hope. But that is exactly what the Nobel committee bought into.

Americans, myself included, must understand the award is based on a world perspective that many of us, especially conservatives, fail to grasp. It is true that despite the esoteric volatile U.S. politics Obama is extremely popular outside our shores in foreign lands where the United Nations and global governance is cherished above all else.

It is only natural that Obama critics might think the Nobel Peace Prize is a slap in the face of the Bush Administration for its unilateral excursion into Iraq in 2002 and pullout of the Kyoto climate treaty. It certainly sounds that way from comments to reporters in Oslo by Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland. From the Washington Post:

"We have not given the prize for what may happen in the future," Jagland said. "We are awarding Obama for what he has done in the past year. And we are hoping this may contribute a little bit for what he is trying to do."

Jagland specifically cited Obama's speech about Islam in Cairo last spring, as well as efforts to address nuclear proliferation and climate change and use established international bodies such as the United Nations to pursue his goals.

Say what? Those speeches were made after the Feb. 1 nomination deadline. One supposes the other 204 nominees sat on their hands or were bound and gagged during the selection process. Oh, and that slap and put down of George W. Bush's unilateral -- "You're with us or for the terrorists" -- approach.

The committee -- made up of luminaries selected by the Norwegian government -- noted a profound shift in U.S. policy and said Obama had "created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play."

Well, at least we know where the Nobel Peace Prize committee is coming from.

Obama is the third sitting president to win the award. Woodrow Wilson was awarded the prize in 1919, after helping to found the League of Nations and shaping the Treaty of Versailles; and Theodore Roosevelt was the recipient in 1906 for his work to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese war. Jimmy Carter won the award in 2002 two decades after his presidency.

In the U.S. the most stinging slam against the award comes from an online article by Wall Street Journal deputy editor Iain Martin as quoted in the Washington Post:

"Think about it, it's so post-modern: a leader can now win the peace prize for saying that he hopes to bring about peace at some point in the future. He doesn't actually have to do it, he just has to have aspirations. Brilliant."

In the Mideast, reaction was moderate.

"We believe he has been rewarded or judged based on good intentions towards peace but not on his achievement," said Ahmed Yousef, deputy foreign minister of Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza and remains isolated by the United States because of its refusal to recognize Israel. "It was too early to award him. He has not done that much yet."

Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli Knesset from the ruling Likud Party who opposed U.S. efforts to freeze construction of Jewish settlements, also said Obama's record is thin. "This is the first time the award is given for wishful thinking," Danon said.

But Hagit Ofran, of Israel's dovish Peace Now movement, credited Obama for pushing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to endorse creation of a Palestinian state and consider settlement curbs. "He is being respected for his belief and determination to get things going," she said. "It is not peace and it is not enough, but his rhetoric did change many things."

Back in the U.S., some of the things Obama has struggled with is pushing new health care reform and climate change legislation although he signed an economic stimulus program which so far has mixed results.

He banned torture but quickly learned closing Guantanamo Bay prison is unlikely to meet a self-imposed deadline next January. His mission to pull all combat troops out of Iraq was squelched when the Bush administration and Iraqi government signed a status agreement keeping our troops there until at least 2012. He's still deliberating over Afghanistan war strategy after announcing a new plan in March.

His efforts to make peace and a two-state accord between Israel and Palestine has received rebuffs from both sides.

Oh, that peace prize award. In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel said it should be rewarded to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."

Obama didn't ask for it, as far as we know. Now, he's saddled with it and the demands for him to produce results are even higher than a normal human being could possibly achieve. It was bad enough the full plate of problems he inherited from the Bush administration.

Now he has dessert thrust upon him by world opinion.

I'm still hopeful he can pull it off. Oops, there goes that damn audacity of hope thing again. I will continue rooting for Obama but sooner or later he must stand up and deliver. I agree with that Hamas spokesman. The Nobel committee should have waited until his second term before awarding him that $1.4 million prize.

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