The Peace Prize is political, and its intent is to make a difference in the world. So its awards have often been controversial, and sometimes time has shown them to have been wrong. But in my world, people get points for bold, and this is bold.
As the initial surprise wears off, I think it’s a good choice, and I think that President Obama is right to accept it. He said the right kinds of things this morning, with appropriate humility.
Here’s the citation:
The Norwegian Nobel committee has decided that the Nobel peace prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.There has been some comment that the prize is to America for turning around as much as it is to Obama. The turning around, of course, was in electing Obama president. We re-elected George Bush, after all. And electing a black president is a turnaround. Every time the world sees him, the turnaround is plain.
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. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
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.
For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The committee endorses Obama's appeal that 'Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges'.
The committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.Americans don’t realize what a big deal this is to the rest of the world, Europe especially. If there had been a nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union, there was no question as to what would have happened to Europe. The survivors, if any, would have looked back to the summer of 1945 with nostalgia.
Obama is the first sitting president to make elimination of nuclear weapons a policy goal. He announced that goal on April 5 in Prague, the day before the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference, the biggest conference on that subject, in a city where, as he remarked in that speech, the American President could hardly have gone only twenty years before. Impossible things do happen.
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. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.It’s that new climate that the committee wants to reinforce. The United States built a new world order after World War II, starting with the United Nations and going on to all those acronymic treaties and organizations that regulate trade and generally keep things in order around the world, not the least of which is the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It was the Marshall Plan that revived Europe and encouragement from the United States of a European Common Market that led to the European Union. Plus arms control treaties with the Soviet Union and picking up the nuclear pieces when the Soviet Union fell apart.
And then George W. Bush did what he could to destroy those structures.
So Obama is going back to that world order, or perhaps moving on to a better one. We don’t know about the latter yet, but this prize is a great sigh of relief that America will be working for stability and peace rather than wars for regime change.
"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," said Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee. (AP)Capturing the world’s attention and giving people hope are achievements. Obama has begun negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians, something that other presidents have waited until the ends of their terms to do.
He has delivered four major foreign policy addresses explaining these themes -- his nuclear nonproliferation speech in Prague; his outreach to the Muslim world in Cairo; his offer of U.S. support to the developing world (tempered with a reminder that nations are responsible for their futures) in Accra, Ghana; and his call for global cooperation at the U.N. General Assembly last month. (WaPo)On the arms control front, which the Committee emphasized,
Not only did he commit himself to this goal in April in Prague, but he has already taken many concrete steps in the right direction by commencing new arms reduction talks with Russia; committing himself to seek ratification and entry into force of a global nuclear test ban treaty; serving as the first U.S. president ever to chair a United Nations Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament; pledging to secure all remaining "loose nukes" and nuclear bomb-making materials within four years, and holding a summit on the subject in Washington next year; and engaging in smart diplomacy by talking to Iran about getting rid of its nuclear weapons program. (TPM Cafe)Humans are demanding creatures. We undervalue what we’ve got and focus on potential losses rather than potential gains. So now we’ve got an American president who has turned attitudes around (done; easy to undervalue) and is, like the Nobel Committee, taking risks. Those risks could turn out badly (focus on potential loss) or really very well indeed (potential gains, not so much). The Committee chose to consciously and counterintuitively focus on what we’ve got and the potential gains.
“We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year,” Mr. Jagland said. “We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.” (NYT)We can hope that this exercise of the better side of their humanity will encourage that side in all of us.
Addendum (10/10/09): David Kaiser makes an argument that is somewhat similar to part of mine, with greater historical depth. Kaiser posts once a week, always worth reading.
The reason, I think, that all this is hard to understand here in the United States, is that conservative Republican positions, which the rest of the world fears and abhors, are regarded here as mainstream.