Obama's Nobel and America's Popularity
Friday, October 9, 2009; 9:40 AM
The Nobel Peace Prize award to Barack Obama seems so 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 United Nations 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 same U.N. speech -- halting torture, ordering the closure of Guantanamo, withdrawing from Iraq, backing negotiations on climate change, and paying America???s debts at the United Nations itself. 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. Obama???s approval rating in Germany: 92 percent compared to 12 percent for George Bush. His approval in the Netherlands: 90 percent compared to 18 percent for Bush. His favorability rating in Europe overall (77 percent) was much higher than in America (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 America 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.