Saturday, October 10, 2009

What to make of Obama's Nobel Peace Prize?

Friday morning, it was all the news. Norway's Nobel Committee awarded its prestigious Peace Prize for the year of 2009 to President Obama.

The Prize is awarded annually as part of the endowment of Alfred Nobel, the 19th century chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer. According to Alfred Nobel's will, the Peace Prize is to go to whoever "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

And, given that criteria, small wonder that the announcement of this year's winner was greeted with surprise. Even those inclined to support President Obama (and they include me) are a bit puzzled. After all, the deadline for nominations occurred on February 1 of this year, not even two full weeks into the President's term of office.

"Some people say — and I understand it — 'Isn't it premature? Too early?' Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now," said Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, as reported by the Associated Press.

That pretty much says it all, I guess. If I may be permitted to restate Herr Jagland's remarks, stripped of their rich diplomatic robes, I'd put it this way: "We are grateful and relieved that the United States is turning away from neo-conservative foreign policy. We very much hope President Obama will follow through on his campaign rhetoric."

Well, I for one (and I know that I'm not alone by a long shot) share in their gratitude, their relief. and their hope. Those Bush years were bleak!

But the Obama administration hasn't exactly resembled the Rainbow Family on the international stage. Drone attacks on targets in Pakistan; a potential escalation in Afghanistan. (Read more about all this on Ridwan's blog.)

I've traveled in Norway. And I love those Norwegians. Upstanding, moral people. Unimpeachable integrity. But they're also a distant people. I think they sometimes view our American sensibilities, our raw emotions, as vulgar.

So, the way I interpret this award, the Norwegians, in their formal, Scandinavian way, are expressing their approval and their encouragement to America's progressive elements. They're longing for the days when the United States fostered global cooperation. They're relieved that the rednecks aren't running the show.

President Obama, for his part, seems to understand the message. He said he was "surprised and deeply humbled." And, according to CNN, Obama said he viewed the decision less as a recognition of his own accomplishments and more as "a call to action."

Let's hope that the action that the President takes as a result of this call might make a real difference. Maybe we can see an end to the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe we can make some progress toward a just and fair peace in Palestine. Maybe we can initiate global, international responses to some of the big problems that face our species.

And to our Norwegian friends I say, "Mange takk , meg venner."

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