The Nobel Prize and The President

This morning’s news that President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize was an enormous surprise for both me and the President, who was informed earlier this morning of the news. The Nobel Prize Committee, in a short press release on their website, cited that the President has “created a new climate in international politics”, as well as reemphasizing the role of the United Nations and work towards nuclear disarmament. While I am surprised that the President has been awarded the prize, I believe that this award comes too prematurely, and could serve to undercut the short-term credibility of the organization.

President Obama has really done little thus far to deserve such an award, in my view. While I am a fan of the President, and largely agree with a number of his policies, many of the major policy initiatives that he has sworn to undertake have not been fulfilled yet. The prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is still in operation, despite orders to close the base, attempts at a peace between the Israeli and Palestinian governments have not changed in any significant fashion and two wars in the Middle East still rage on.

Despite that, I think that the awarding of this prize is a significant marker in the way that the tone has shifted towards the United States because of President Obama. Given that the nominations for the prize were due around the time that he went into office, I have to think that this wasn’t because of any specific policies, but more about the post-election period where his administration began to plan out their strategy for the next four years, which included ending the war in Iraq, closing Guantanamo, and working on fixing the country domestically, all things that have yet to happen, and most likely won’t for the foreseeable future. The fact that the prize seems to have been awarded on the potential of a person is a bit disturbing, because a failure of the Obama administration to achieve some or all of these goals will undermine the award. The speeches and talk prior to the election sounded good – fantastic, even – but it has to be remembered that it is the actions that will distinguish the president, not his words.

Still, the mere presence of a riveting figure appears to be worthy of the prize, and there are some good indications that his entry into world politics has yielded some results. Iran has agreed to open nuclear talks with the rest of the world, and the US has made some significant moves towards reducing its nuclear arsenal, along with Russia. What is more important, I feel, is the overtures that the President is making, pushing for a more important role for peace, apologizing for some very wrong things that the United States has undertaken and showing that at least there is significant efforts to change the very standoffish stance that the United States has undertaken in the past eight years. While these have not been backed up with the same significant actions, the United States has shown the first efforts towards this with renewed efforts in the State Department.

Is the president deserving of this award for his actions in office thus far? Not really, no. But, as the New York Times points out, it’s not unprecedented, that individuals with potential have been awarded the Prize, such as West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. As the Times suggests, there is already something in progress with the election of President Obama. I just hope that it will play out as expected.

“When ships to sail the void between the stars have been invented, there will also be men who come forward to sail those ships.” -Johannes Kepler
October 2009
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