Friday, October 09, 2009

Some Thoughts on Obama's Nobel Prize

No, really, I'm not kidding, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I questioned the prize committee's definition of the word "peace" when Al Gore won it for environmental activism, which seemed a wee bit of a stretch for me. This time around, the committee at least seems to be thinking in the general direction of "peace":

The committee praised Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" during his nine months in office and singled out for special recognition Obama's call for a world free of nuclear weapons, which he first made in an April speech in Prague.

Heralding Obama as a transformative figure in U.S. and international diplomacy, the committee said: "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. His diplomacy 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."

So. This will, no doubt, make conservatives flip the fuck out. Maybe it'll move his poll numbers among the rest of the population. (Maybe the Nobel committee just wants us to get some decent health care?) But what reaction do I, an American progressive/hippie pinko commie type have to the bestowing of the Peace Prize on the president whom I spent the better part of a year volunteering to get elected?

The snark is flowing fast on Twitter. Melissa Harris-Lacewell: Because he appointed all his electoral adversaries to the cabinet. #ReasonsBHOwonNPP and Because he invited a white policeman over for a beer! #ReasonsBHOwonNPP #BlackMenDontDoThat.

But really, it does seem a little...early? I mean, the man's been president for nine months. The extraordinary goodwill that he's generated around the world? Mostly a result of him so very obviously NOT being George W. Bush. I mean, yes, he's done some things that are impressive. He's given speeches in Muslim countries calling for understanding, he's called for a world without nuclear weapons, he's not behind the coup in Honduras and has actually taken some steps to return the rightful president, etc. He wants to get out of Iraq, though it appears to be going far slower than we'd have hoped.

Let's be clear: we didn't elect Dennis Kucinich. Shit, we KNEW we weren't electing Dennis Kucinich. But I think a lot of us were hoping for more than we've gotten. Pushing for the Patriot Act renewal and more funding for war in Afghanistan harder than he seems to be pushing for a public option on health care is only the latest set of disappointments.

I wonder what's left to give him if he DOES accomplish something major? If he manages to broker peace between Israel and Palestine? Hell, if he actually ends the two wars he inherited? Our own Matt Duss joked: Obama will receive prize on Dec 10. Has until then to end Isr-Pal conflict, get Iran to abandon nukes, end Iraq/Afgh wars. No pressure. (I guess they could always give a prize to Hillary Clinton for all that, and once and for all cause Bill's head to explode: Carter, Gore, Obama and HIS WIFE?)

Others pointed out the massive peaceful protests in Iran this year and how that deserves more of a peace prize than Obama. Mousavi's history with prior Iranian regimes probably discounted him (fairly, I think) but what about acknowledging the people who crowded the streets protesting for change? What about the people in Honduras calling for the return of their president under repressive conditions?

The Nobel Prize and other things like it celebrate individual achievement, but working for peace isn't an individual thing. It requires collective action. It requires solidarity, communication, interaction. It's not like writing a great book (or a great oeuvre). In a way, giving the peace prize to a sitting president while peace protesters are arrested in this country demeans the massive, not-officially-sanctioned peace movement that marched against wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet a lot of those people worked to put Obama in office as the best way to stop American warmongering, so perhaps blogger Cyn3matic was right when she said: Nobel Peace Prize=GIANT repudiation of W and the misbegotten Bush-Cheney years. This is the world saying, '08 voters, we AGREE. She noted that she felt vindicated in her anti-war marching years ago by this vote, and so perhaps in some way this is an acknowledgment of all the American people.

Spencer Ackerman thinks so:

But turning it down would be a slap in the face to an international community that is showing, in the most generous way possible, that it wants the U.S. back as a leading component of the global order. The issue is not Barack Obama. It’s what the president represents internationally: a symbol of an America that is willing, once again, to drive the international system forward, together, toward the humane positive-sum goals of peace and disarmament. The fact that Obama hasn’t gotten the planet there misses the point entirely. It’s that he’s beginning, slowly, to take the world again down the path.

So while I see what Obama's done so far as a step in the right direction on some issues, perhaps, but mostly just shifting us back to where we were under Clinton (a place that I was not at all happy to be, so we're clear), I guess the rest of the world thinks something bigger is changing here.