By Bill Boyarsky
Congratulations to the Norwegians for having the wisdom to give President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize.
He’s earned it. In Obama’s nine months as president, he has put U.S. relations with Russia on a more constructive course; has seen Iran agree to open its nuclear facility near Qom to international inspection; and, despite Israeli and Palestinian intransigence, has kept the two sides negotiating with America’s dogged envoy, George Mitchell, who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.
More than that, he has brought the United States back into the world community after eight years of Bush-Cheney chauvinism and scorn for America’s allies. As the Nobel committee said, “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 the other international institutions can play.”
Mystifyingly, many main-line journalists are offended. How dare the Nobel committee give it to such a neophyte? “Not even a Rookie of the Year is ready to be elected to the Hall of Fame,” wrote George Packer of The New Yorker. The brief journalistic euphoria when the rookie was inaugurated as president seems now forgotten. “The award has essentially been given for the president’s speechmaking ability,” John Dickerson wrote in Slate. Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Jonathan Martin concluded that “President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is quickly turning from a singular honor into a gold-medal headache, as even supporters call it premature and critics say it proves he’s a darling of the international elite.” (Weren’t FDR and JFK darlings of the international elite? And some of them were charmed by Ronald Reagan, too.)
The left seems downright outraged. Richard Kim wrote on The Nation’s Web site, “Obama doesn’t deserve the prize, yet.” Kevin Drum blogged on the Mother Jones site, “... [T]he guy’s been in office for slightly less than nine months. That’s barely enough time to make a baby, let alone bring world peace.”
Obama himself was humble. “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace,” he said. “But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build, a world that gives life to the promise of our founding fathers.”
Obama said he knows the prize “has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.”
But, in fact, in Obama’s short time in office, his achievements have been substantial.
He killed the Bush administration plan for a missile defense—a radar installation near Prague and 10 missile interceptors in northern Poland—aimed ostensibly at Iranian missiles. The old Iron Curtain countries regarded it as protection against Russia. Russia considered the plan a provocation and a threat. It was an unnecessary provocation—especially since there wasn’t much hope the thing could ever shoot down a missile. And its elimination permitted the United States to work with Russia on a much more immediate issue—Iran’s nuclear buildup.
Obama was able to announce that Iran would open its nuclear facility at Qom to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. He also announced that Iran would ship low-grade nuclear fuel to another country—it turned out to be Russia—for processing. Iran said it would ship 1,200 kilograms of the 1,500 kilograms it had, leaving a store in Iran insufficient to build a nuclear bomb. By doing this, Iran would become one of several nations using the Russian international enrichment center, perhaps taking a step toward joining the world community.
“The administration deserves congratulations for its adroit diplomacy,” Gregory L. Schulte wrote in Foreign Policy. He said it “might represent an important diplomatic breakthrough.”
And while few—including the Israelis and Palestinians—expect success from Obama’s Mideast peace efforts, he has pushed ahead. Perhaps it reminds him of the beginning of his presidential campaign, when hardly anybody gave him a chance. Whatever the reason for his persistence, his envoy George Mitchell was meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when Obama’s award was announced.
Don’t sell the effort in Israel short. Obama and Mitchell are as stubborn as Netanyahu. And, as Mitchell showed in Northern Ireland, he is an incredibly patient and smart man.
One thing is clear: Obama brought a view of the world that was absent from Washington during the Bush years. As Obama said during the presidential campaign, he regards negotiation as a sign of strength, not weakness.
And don’t discount his speeches and his message of hope. Thorbjorn Jagland, the new Nobel committee chairman, compared the Obama award to one given in 1971 to a man with a message that seemed more hopeful than practical. He was Willy Brandt, then the West German chancellor, who advocated an “Ostpolitik” policy of reconciling with East Germany. “Brandt hadn’t achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Jagland told The New York Times.
Critics have an argument against the prize going to the president—the Afghanistan war.
The day Obama won the peace prize, The Wall Street Journal reported, he was scheduled to meet with his war council to discuss whether to increase the number of troops there by 40,000 or 60,000.
If Obama leads the country into a hopeless war to support a corrupt government—with no attainable goal and no end in sight—then his Nobel will indeed be tarnished, an ironic note in the history of his presidency.
But I don’t think it will happen. In his short time in office, he has shown he understands the world better than some of his more experienced predecessors. The Nobel Prize will help him and his administration to do even more.
AP / Gerald Herbert
President Barack Obama enters the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to remark about being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.