“Wow!” was my initial, unbridled reaction when I read about the Nobel committee’s selection of President Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize. I was in bed, reading the news on my iPhone, and leapt out to share it with the kids. Before I could say anything, I was greeted with, “Yeah, Dad, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.”
I’m sobering up now. I’m a fan of Obama’s, but I’m a bigger fan of peace. What has he done to deserve the prize?
While I’m not excited about the escalation of efforts in Afghanistan, I am inclined to agree with the Nobel Committee’s reasoning:
Obama has as president 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.
I remember the outright horror I felt at Bush’s “you’re either with us or against us” unilateral and arrogant stand on the world political stage. I remember my incredulity as I watched him squander all the political good will directed towards us in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He endangered decades-long alliances for dubious short-term gains.
One of the main reasons I voted for Obama was my hope that he could undo much of the diplomatic damage done by his predecessor. His election alone was a positive international event that went a good step towards restoring much of the warmth once felt towards the United States. Where Bush represented American arrogance and reckless individualism, Obama’s election represented the best the US had to offer, that we could shake our racist past and put a black man in charge of the most powerful nation in the free world.
And we elected a man who deliberately refrained from engaging in the prevailing and divisive identity politics. Throughout his campaign and thus far in his young presidency, he has persistently reached across the aisle again and again, in spite of criticism and frustration voiced from his own ruling party and continuing rebuffs from his political opponents.
This has been his approach to global politics as well. I believe that his willingness to support multilateral efforts is already showing some signs of success in our relationship with Iran. His “reboot” of the US-Russian partnership has already reduced worrisome tensions and has improved our ability to get their crucial backing in the UN Security Council on key nuclear proliferation concerns.
And to return to the theme of the Nobel committee’s above quote, here is Obama’s take on American global leadership, from a press conference at the G20 meeting last month:
you’re starting to see some restoration of America’s standing in the world. And although, as you know, I always mistrust polls, international polls seem to indicate that you’re seeing people more hopeful about America’s leadership.
Now, we remain the largest economy in the world by a pretty significant margin. We remain the most powerful military on Earth. Our production of culture, our politics, our media…still has enormous influence. And so I do not buy into the notion that America can’t lead in the world. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that we had important things to contribute.
I just think in a world that is as complex as it is, that it is very important for us to be able to forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions…And so that’s not a loss for America; it’s an appreciation that Europe is now rebuilt and a powerhouse. Japan is rebuilt, is a powerhouse. China, India — these are all countries on the move. And that’s good. That means there are millions of people — billions of people — who are working their way out of poverty. And over time, that potentially makes this a much more peaceful world.
And that’s the kind of leadership we need to show — one that helps guide that process of orderly integration without taking our eyes off the fact that it’s only as good as the benefits of individual families, individual children: Is it giving them more opportunity; is it giving them a better life? If we judge ourselves by those standards, then I think America can continue to show leadership for a very long time.
This rhetoric is a sea-change from the America of four years ago, and in the world of diplomacy, words like this have powerful impact. Honestly, I think the Nobel Prize is a bit premature, but not entirely undeserved. Like most of the world, he’s in a bit of debt now. But if President Obama can live up to the high expectations placed on him, and continue on the course he has set for America for the next three or more year, I think he will have earned this prize fully.