Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama wins a Nobel Prize

Don't get me wrong - I'm an enormous fan of Barack Obama.

Obama is an incredibly capable, diplomatic and pragmatic politician. His book, Dreams from my Father, which I reviewed here, revealed astonishing depth and honesty.

Nine months into his presidency, I'm still impressed at how he's remained true to his pledge to move America in a new direction - or, at least, try to - despite the best (worst) efforts of both embittered Republicans and entrenched Democrats.

But today's announcement - that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize - completely floored me. Despite all my admiration for the man, I thought it was totally inexplicable. To his credit, it appeared that Barack Obama was just as astonished as I was.
In a surprise, Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize
Associated Press - Full story here.

President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a stunning decision. Nobel observers were shocked by the unexpected choice so early in the Obama presidency. The White House had no immediate comment on the announcement, which took the administration by surprise.
The Nobel committee cited several reasons for awarding the President this lauded prize - like Obama's commitment to ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his pledge to reduce America's carbon emissions and his ambition to reduce the world's stock of nuclear weapons.

"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,"committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland explained.

Yet there are two major problems I have with this.

The first is simply that President Obama has yet to achieve any of his worthy goals. America's still embroiled in two foreign wars, we're still churning out billions of tons of pollution and Iran and North Korea are struggling to produce their own nuclear stockpile even while we discuss reducing our own.

We shouldn't go around handing out awards for people's potential achievements - otherwise Jensen Button would have been a Formula One World Champion years ago, or [insert your own hackneyed sporting metaphor here.]

But that criticism pales in comparison to my second problem with Obama's Nobel Prize.

The nomination period for Nobel Prizes closed in February - just two weeks after President Obama took office. Somebody decided to nominate him even then - when he'd barely had enough time to unpack, let alone do anything to qualify him for one of the world's most prestigious prizes.

The justifications the Nobel committee have given for awarding Obama the Peace Prize are all well and good, but they don't explain his nomination in the first place.

Every reason the committee gave for giving him the prize occurred after Obama had been nominated - which means when that decision was made back in February, it was on the cynical understanding that he'd end up doing something - anything - to justify that nomination in the intervening months.

Just like the award of the prize itself, he'd been nominated on a promise - which is, in all honesty (and with all due respect to President Obama) a bloody stupid way to go around choosing who's worthy of the world's most prestigious peace prize.


Eve said...

I can agree with that. I like him, as far as presidents go, but I don't really understand why he deserves this award at this point in time. He's barely even started doing things yet, at least on the scale of things worthy of a Nobel peace prize. I could see maybe at some point after having completed his presidential term or terms, assuming he managed to do great things in that span of time. I think he has that potential, but he's certainly not there yet.

ck said...

There you go... you're not totally clueless.

This was a very stupid decision.

Eve said...

After I made that comment, someone brought up a point that made me rethink slightly (but just slightly). At times in the past, the Nobel Peace Prize has been given based on effort rather than results. For example, Bishop Desmond Tutu received it for his efforts to end apartheid a good decade before it actually was achieved. They didn't wait to see if it worked. President Woodrow Wilson received the prize for creating the League of Nations because of its goal of achieving world peace, even though it didn't end up working. President Jimmy Carter received it for his efforts toward peace in the Middle East, even though he didn't actually achieve peace. There have been others, but I won't list them all. Suffice to say that, at least some of the time, efforts toward peace are considered sufficient grounds for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, even if those efforts have not achieved anything (though the awards given to Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter have been subject to much debate).

I would like to mention that this still doesn't make me feel that Obama's receipt of the Nobel is completely warranted. It makes me feel somewhat better about it, as he has made efforts to encourage peace with various countries, but I don't feel that he's put in quite the amount of work yet that would deserve that award. I do appreciate that he seems to be as shocked as the rest of us, and that he appears to be taking it as motivation to work more towards peace. And I still think he could live up to it eventually, but it still feels a little premature. The award still looks more like incentive than recognition.