Saturday, October 10, 2009
"Mom!" my 12-year-old yelled from the kitchen. "President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize!"
I told her she had to be mistaken.
This is ridiculous -- embarrassing, even. I admire President Obama. I like President Obama. I voted for President Obama. But the peace prize? This is supposed to be for doing, not being -- and it's no disrespect to the president to suggest he hasn't done much yet. Certainly not enough to justify this prize.
"Extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples?" "Captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future?" Please. This turns the award into something like pee-wee soccer: Everybody wins for trying.
Scroll down the list of peace prize winners. Jimmy Carter won in 2002 "for his decades [emphasis added] of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts." Last year's winner, Martti Ahtisaari, was cited "for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades [emphasis added], to resolve international conflicts."
Obama gets the award for, what, a good nine months? Or maybe a good two weeks -- the nominations were due Feb. 1. The other two sitting U.S. presidents who won the prize -- Woodrow Wilson in 1919 for his role in founding the League of Nations, Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War -- were in their second terms.
I imagine that Obama, when they woke him up this morning to deliver the news, grasped the bizarreness of it all. In 2006, when he was only a star senator, he mocked his instant celebrity at the Gridiron Club dinner.
"I've been very blessed," he said. "Keynote speaker at the Democratic convention. The cover of Newsweek. My book made the bestseller list. I just won a Grammy for reading it on tape. And I've had the chance to speak not once but twice before the Gridiron Club. Really, what else is there to do? Well, I guess, I could pass a law or something."
If the Nobel Committee ran out of worthy candidates, it might have engaged in a bit of recycling. Nothing wrong with a second prize to Aung San Suu Kyi (1991).
And I suspect it did not do the president any favors. Obama's cheerleaders don't need encouragement -- and his critics will only seize on the prize to further lampoon the Obama-as-messiah storyline.
Now what does he do for an encore?
-- Ruth Marcus
At least the Nobel committee came clean this time. In awarding the peace prize to President Obama, its chairman acknowledged that it did so because it agrees with and wants to promote his politics.
"We are hoping this may contribute a little bit for what he is trying to do," Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said on Friday. The prize "is a clear signal to the world that we want to advocate the same as he has done to promote international diplomacy."
The confession of political motive should be no surprise following the Nobel Committee's behavior during the Bush administration, when the peace prize was regularly handed to fierce opponents of the president -- from Jimmy Carter to Al Gore to Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In those cases, though, the committee denied that its intentions were political. Now Jagland doesn't mince words. "We have to get the world on the right track again," the New York Times quoted him as saying. "Look at the level of confrontation we had just a few years ago. Now we get a man who is not only willing but probably able to open dialogue and strengthen international institutions." Obama may get a boost from the Nobel Prize; in time he may prove the committee's declaration right. But I suspect even he might shrink from some of its rhetoric. "His diplomacy," the citation declared, "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."
In a stunning development, Millard Fillmore Senior High School announced today that it had chosen Shawn Rabinowitz, an incoming junior, as next year's valedictorian. The award was made, the valedictorian committee announced from Norway of all places, on the basis of "Mr. Rabinowitz's intention to ace every course and graduate number one in his class." In a prepared statement, young Shawn called the unprecedented award "[expletive]ing awesome."
At the same time, and amazingly enough, the Pulitzer Prize for literature went to Sarah Palin for her stated intention "to read a book someday." The former Alaska governor was described as "floored" by the award, announced in Stockholm by nude Swedes beating themselves with birch branches, and insisted that while she was very busy right now, someday she would make good on her vow. "You'll see," she said from her winter home in San Diego.
And in an astonishing coincidence, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar for best picture will be given this year to the Vince Vaughn vehicle "Guys Weekend to Burp," which is being story-boarded at the moment but looks very good indeed. Mr. Vaughn, speaking through his publicist, said he was "touched and moved" by the award and would do everything in his power to see that the picture lives up to expectation and opens big next March.
At the same news conferences, the Academy announced that the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award would go this year to Britney Spears for her intention to "spend whatever it takes to save the whales." The Academy recognized that Spears had not yet saved a single whale, but it felt strongly that it was the intention that counted most. Spears, who was leaving a club at the time, told People magazine that she would not want to live in "a world without whales." People put it on the cover.
The sudden spate of awards based on intentions or plans or aspirations was attributed to the decision by the Nobel Committee to award the peace prize to Barack Obama for his efforts in nuclear disarmament and his outreach to the Muslim world. (The committee said next year it will honor a Muslim who reaches out to the non-Muslim world.) Some cynics suggested that Obama's award was a bit premature since, among other things, a Middle East peace was as far away as ever and the world had yet to fully disarm. Nonetheless, the president seemed humbled by the news and the Norwegian committee packed for its trip to the United States, where it will appear on "Dancing With the Stars."
The Nobel Peace Prize award to Barack Obama seems goofy -- even if you're a fan, you have to admit that he hasn't really done much yet as a peacemaker. But there's an aspect of this prize that is real and important -- and that validates Obama's strategy from the day he took office.
The Obama team came to the White House convinced that one of America's biggest problems in the world was "reflexive anti-Americanism," as Obama put it in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly two weeks ago. They saw America's unpopularity as a big national security problem, and they were right.
So they set about winning hearts and minds (the Nobel judges among them) from Day One. Obama gave a series of speeches calculated to position him as the Un-Bush. He listed his achievements in that U.N. speech -- halting torture, ordering the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, withdrawing from Iraq, backing negotiations on climate change and paying America's debts at the United Nations
Europeans liked it, too, when the president picked a fight with Israel over settlements and when he showed himself so determined to negotiate with Iran that he overlooked the fact that its government had stolen an election.
That's what he's being honored for, really: reconnecting America to the world and making us popular again. If you want to understand the sentiments behind the prize, look at the numbers in the Transatlantic Trends report released last month by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Obama's approval rating in Germany: 92 percent compared with 12 percent for George Bush. In the Netherlands, 90 percent to 18 percent for Bush. His favorability rating in Europe overall (77 percent) was much higher than in the United States (57 percent).
Obama's achievements are in the "good intentions" category, but that doesn't mean they are insignificant. America was too unpopular under Bush. The Nobel Committee is expressing a collective sigh of relief that this country has rejoined the global consensus. They're right. It's a good thing. It's just a little weird that they gave him a prize for it.
Many commentators have wondered how President Obama could have won the Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his first term. Has he made peace between anyone, anywhere in the world?
But anyone paying attention to the White House's news releases a few days ago knows the real reason: Obama proclaimed Oct. 9 Leif Erikson Day, in honor of the Nordic explorer who landed in America a millennium ago, founding Vinland, a small settlement in what would later become Newfoundland. Can this mean anything but that Obama is in the tank for the Scandinavian lobby? And what malicious timing: a few days before Americans honor the explorer who really discovered the Americas. Now the Norwegian parliament has given Obama his ill-gotten reward.
-- Stephen Stromberg