Journalism

Obama's Nobel and the glory of good intentions

It isn’t Denis Mukwege, the doctor who’s treated at least 21,000 rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He’s the only doctor there who does such treatment and the hospital he founded has helped hundreds of thousands of women. It isn’t any of the Chinese dissidents who’ve been jailed or had to flee their native land for daring to speak against its government. It isn’t any of the human rights campaigners working in difficult nations without major media recognition. It isn’t the Afghan woman’s right campaigner. And it isn’t Handicap International and the Cluster Munition Coalition, two organizations dedicated to clearing mines and helping the victims of cluster bombs and land mines. Instead, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize goes to the leader of a nation that continues to use cluster munitions and refuses to ratify the ban on land mines. The prize has been awarded on hope.

Maybe that’s the right thing to do. The committee put great stock in Obama’s policy for nuclear disarmament. And while we haven’t destroyed a single weapon, the goal is as noble as they come. My own criticisms of Obama would be wiped away if he leaves office with even significant progress towards nuclear disarmament.

I appreciate that much of the world views my native land more favorably since Obama’s election, and i hope that he will follow the carrot being dangled in front of him. But i have my reservations.

According to the committee:

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.

This is nice talk, but what of arresting a social worker for twittering police orders in Pittsburgh? Where is the stern response to the coup in Honduras? What of America’s world leading prison population? Am i the only one who questions that the US speaks to everyone of peace while waging war? What sort of values are represented by telling Iran that it cannot develop nuclear weapons but refusing to speak on Israel’s arsenal? Can a man who presides over the world’s largest exporter of arms be a standard bearer for peace?

Yes, my idealism is peeking through. But remember that a cynic is just an idealist who’s been confronted with reality one too many times. I cannot disagree with the idealism that formed the basis of the committee’s decision. I applaud that idealism even if i cannot share it.

But i would like to see the Nobel Peace Prize given to someone who has achieved something rather than discussed achieving something. I would rather see the prize money used to build another hospital for Congolese rape victims or applied to removing land mines around the world. I would like to see the award given to someone who’s work has come in the face of severe adversity, someone who has suffered for his/her idealism and retained it.

I appreciate the thank you given to a president who has, at least apparently, chosen to rejoin the world after the disaster of the previous administration. But is that such a great achievement? Shouldn’t that be expected of our nation?

I hope that President Obama leverages this award to good effect. But i’m finding it more and more difficult to sustain myself on hope. So i’m left with Gogol, laughing my bitter laugh.

14 replies »

  1. You guys are missing the point. He won this becasue he brought a cop and a black professor together for beer.

  2. I lost respect for this prize years ago and this one hasn’t changed my mind. He was only in office for a month when the nominations went in. I DO think he was kinda screwed either way when he got the call this morning. He couldn’t say no, but saying yes was ridiculous. The way I see it, this was a blatant attempt to influence US Foreign policy, not a recognition of accomplishment.

  3. This is so outrageous, I’m betting Al Gore just looked in the mirror and realized his Nobel Peace Prize is a sham, too.

    Like Lex, I’d like to see the Nobel Peace Prize winner actually usher in PEACE of some sort. Even Arafat had done something in laying out the bare beginnings of a two-state solution in Israel. I was only 8 at the time, so maybe someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the award went to Arafat and Rabin in hopes it would encourage them to stick with the peace process. Granted that’s a political manipulation, but at least they had something to show for it in 1994.

  4. Jeff, Arafat shared that prize with Rabin.

    I think he could have said no. He could list the accomplishments of the few other nominees we know about. He could still say that he’s “humbled and honored” and he could still use the event as a “call to action”. And then he could say that he will only accept the award when it reflects his accomplishments.

    Instead he’ll put on a tux and accept the award. Meanwhile more than 150,000 residents of Detroit (his constituents) will have their utilities shut off this year and be left to face the coming winter without heat or electricity. Children will still lose legs to landmines. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    Orwell and Gogol make quite the pair…

  5. I read this assessment of Obama’s Nobel by Peter Sawtell of Eco-Justice Ministries that squares with Lex’s perception of why it was awarded (though it ultimately favors Obama’s receiving the award) — and it has not mitigated my discomfort over the Prize being used as a political tool:

    “The 2009 Peace Prize, apparently, affirms a transformation of US leadership style in the world. The timing of this fall’s announcement from Oslo might be seen as both an encouragement of the Obama approach, and a backhanded anti-Nobel to the recently-departed Bush administration. Obama merits the prize, not for clear accomplishments in his few months in office, but for a dramatic turnabout in values and strategy. Diplomacy is the first choice for action, and multiculturalism recognizes the authenticity of conflicting value systems. The Obama administration seems to take seriously the reality of a global community and the rightful claims of future generations. The Nobel committee has affirmed those approaches as constructive ways to peace — and the prize puts pressure on President Obama to stay that course.”

    The notion that it should be employed an an instrument of political pressure evacuates it of its prestige and potency. Although I want to do everything I can to encourage President Obama, I am disappointed in this premature decision.

  6. This is just the weirdest thing really. I am astonished at how roundly this is being panned, on both sides of the political divide.

    So what if the Nobel Committee is trying to influence US foreign policy. This country obviously needs a bit of guidance. Encouraging the president to live up to the world’s new hope is no bad thing.

    That the prize is being awarded for promise rather than accomplishment speaks volumes to the desperate situation humankind finds itself in at this time.

  7. FYI, the “Anonymous” comment in #8 was mine — I inadvertently hit submit before I’d entered my name.

  8. Lex, I know he shared it with Rabin. I suspect that he needed the cash to keep his christian wife and kids comfortably ensconced in their pied-ai-tierre on Avenue Foch in Paris.

    Jeff