I couldn’t NOT post an extra blog today, considering my endless blurbs about it yesterday. “This year’s Nobel Peace Prize goes to… President Barack Obama!!!”
If you, like me, heard the announcement (though I didn’t hear it live. Had I known, I would have seen it live. My mom texted me from Norway, and I didn’t even believe her – I went straight to check the news), if you heard the announcement you would have had goosebumps too. The crowd went “whaaaaooooooooOOOOO!” I think there was 75 % surprise in that whaaoo, 24 % happiness and maybe that one, tiny percent dislike. Once the decision leaves the room, though, this one will be criticized, believe you me.
I am as big a fan of Obama as anyone (well, maybe not anyone – having done some walking around in D.C. the last couple of months I realize there is a Obamania out there I’m not going to try to compete with – you’ll never see me in Obama undies, for instance). I believe he is the right guy for the US right now (even though he has a tough job ahead of him), and I believe the course he is steering the US in is right for the world. However, there is a long step from that to the Nobel Prize, in my opinion.
To me, it sounds like this year’s prize is an attempt of looking back – for better and for worse. As I mentioned yesterday, in its early history the Nobel Prize was definitely political. The last time (to my knowledge) the prize was awarded a sitting head of state (or at least an American president) was in 1906, when the-less-than-peaceful Theodore Roosevelt won it.* The reason? Norway had existed as an independent state for one year only, and it was time to make diplomatic contacts.
Neither Obama nor the Nobel Committee benefits from this comparison. I would like to think that they gave him the prize for all the right reasons, but it is hard for me not to automatically think “this is just so he’ll come to Norway”. Everyone wants a piece of Obama (and I now suspect that several of the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are wearing Obama undies…).
The Nobel prize has always balanced on the difficult line between “political” and “irrelevant”. This year they took a great leap over to the political side. The problem with awarding the prize to a sitting head of state is also, of course, that he still has plenty of time left to “dis-earn” being a laureate. And Obama is not just a sitting head of state, he is a relatively new head of state. He has at least three more years (potentially seven) to f..(oh, well, I’ll try to make it PG-something) …to hing it up. While the Nobel prize only ever is awarded for actions already taken, though with the intention of inspiring future ones, it’s no doubt that if the laureate should act in a way not consistent with winning a peace prize after having received it, it reflects on the decision of giving it to him in the first place.
The other way to look at this is that it is a step back to the intentions behind the prize. Nobel’s will does emphasize “folkens forbrödrande” (fraternity between the nations), “abolition or reduction of standing armies” and “the formation and spreading of peace congresses”. The last few years this has often been interpreted rather creatively. This year, however, the leader of the committee specifically mentioned Obama’s direct influence on this – his commitment to reduce weapons of mass destruction, his extraordinarily work for international diplomacy and the fact that he represents a hope the world needs.
I agree with these points. The questions is not so much whether Obama deserves the prize (I think he eventually would have won it anyway), the question is whether it was right to give it to him now, so early in his presidency; and whether he needs this distinguished honour to promote his cause. To reply to the latter first: probably not. He already holds an extraordinary position in the world – not just as president of the United States, but as the committee correctly identified – as a hope for cooperation and development in the years to come. Setting aside the potential loss of credibility of the Nobel Peace Prize due to this year’s obvious political agenda, was it right to give it to him now? I don’t know this, and only time will show. However, rather than being awarded for actions past this year’s prize seems to be meant as a standard Obama can measure himself against. Something to live up to. If so , it might be timely. And I am confident that Obama is the sort of person who has it in him to accept another glory without getting inflated. He definitely is Nobel Peace Prize laureate material.
So, with all my heart: congratulations, Mr. President!
*After having read some news stories on the subject, I take it back. Woodrow Wilson (who indeed worked for peace after World War One) won the prize while he still was president in 1919.