The normally circumspect David Brooks of The New York Times could hardly contain himself on the News Hour. The buttoned-down conservative sputtered that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama was “a joke,” and he dismissed the Nobel Prize Committee as nothing more than “five Norwegian lefties.” Other commentators were quick to pass judgment that the Nobel Committee was behaving like the Democratic Campaign Committee by awarding the prize first to Vice-President Gore and now President Obama. After all, what exactly had Obama accomplished?
Obviously, nine months into his first year in office and only five years out of the Illinois State Senate, Barak Obama is no Nelson Mandela. He hasn’t accomplished what Lech Walesa, Martin Luther King, or German Chancellor Willy Brandt did to win the peace prize. Arguably, he hasn’t even done as much as Vice-President Gore did to wake the world to the apocalypse of global warming. But that misses the point entirely.
The Nobel Peace Prize goes to the person who has done the most in 2009 to advance the cause of world peace. The committee judges individuals based on their contemporary significance, not on their world historical status. You don’t have to be another Dag Hammarskjöld to win a prize. It isn’t a Mother Teresa look-alike contest either.
In 2009 is there any event more significant in reducing international tensions than the change from George W. Bush to Barak Obama? Even if you do not agree with Obama’s politics, public opinion polls show overwhelming approval for Obama and his foreign policies among most of the world’s nations compared to the overwhelming disapproval of the policies of the Bush Administration. The public acclaim he received in Cairo and Berlin was truly astounding. And that matters. One could argue that all that President Obama has done is make speeches. “I have a dream” and “tear down this wall,” were only words, yet they changed the world.
Surely, transforming America’s image, committing the United States to reducing global warming, prohibiting torture, and opening dialogues with old adversaries like Iran and North Korea are momentous achievements.
OK, I admit that Obama may not belong in the same company as Martin Luther King or Linus Pauling, but that’s not the relevant question. We all get the idea that not all prize winners are created equal.
Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, and Ted Williams, were all chosen as Most Valuable Players. But so were Bob O’Farrell, Spud Chandler and Gabby Hartnett, in their respective years. No one thinks that they all played ball at the same level.
The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, On the Waterfront, and All About Eve were all chosen as Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Pictures. Incredibly, the same prize went to Titanic and Braveheart. But they were different years with different pictures in contention.
No one thinks that the tired 60’s musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was as important as Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Angels in America just because all four of them won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in their respective years.
By awarding the peace prize to President Obama the Nobel Committee was acknowledging a change in the tenor and direction of U.S. foreign policy. The United States has returned to international institutions and to our traditional alliances.
The media has reacted as if Obama is somehow tainted by his association with the Nobel Committee. Americans have often been suspicious when our statesmen are honored from abroad. When Silas Deane, the hero of my book, UNLIKELY ALLIES, was honored in 1778 by our ally Louis XVI many in Congress questioned Deane’s loyalty. Now some Americans even question President Obama’s nationality
The peace prize often is awarded to controversial figures. Yasser Arafat, Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho, and Menachem Begin were Nobel winners. Kissinger and Begin? Apparently, the Nobel Committee isn’t just a bunch of “Norwegian lefties.”
We should all take pride that the world has embraced our President as a symbol of American generosity and pluralistic democracy. Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is America’s peace prize, too. And we deserve it.
If you like reading this blog, check out my new book, UNLIKELY ALLIES.
Booklist called UNLIKELY ALLIES, “A rip-roaring account of the American Revolution, told from a fresh, and undeniably offbeat, perspective.”