Friday, October 9, 2009

President Obama Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

Like many of you did this morning, I received the news that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize, making him the third sitting U.S. President in history to receive this honor. I must admit that when I was initially told of this, I didn't think that I had heard the news correctly. Predictably there has been intense backlash on the right in reaction to this news and there has been reaction from some on the left praising the decision and deriding the detractors on the right. In reality, we should call this decision for what it is, incongruous.

From the AP:

For one of America's youngest presidents, in office less than nine months — and only for 12 days before the Nobel nomination deadline last February — it was an enormous honor.

The prize seems to be more for Obama's promise than for his performance. The Nobel committee cited as his key accomplishment "a new climate in international politics." The president has become "the world's leading spokesman" for its agenda, the committee said.

He has no standout moment of victory. Not surprising. Like most presidents in their first year, Obama's scorecard so far is largely an "incomplete," if he's being graded.

With Obama only being in office for nine months, it is natural that much of his work is still incomplete. The Nobel committee stated that they were honoring his creation of a new climate in international politics and his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy. I think it is notable to mention that this statement has some truth to it. Obama has made quite an effort to change the international climate, he did an interview with al-Arabiya, has reached out to the Muslim world through speeches, and he has made promises to close Guantanamo, end torture, and sit down with foreign leaders with whom he may not always agree. These are positive steps and a notable change in tone from the strategy that was engaged in over the last eight years.

In looking at the actions that have been undertaken by Obama, one needs to look no further than the fact that he is presiding over two wars, one of which he has escalated and one in which we have seen no considerable effort to end. Obama has adopted the war in Afghanistan by ordering air raids and drone attacks that have had large numbers of civilian casualties, including numerous children. Couple this with the protection of the previous Administration despite serious accusations of lawbreaking and his continued policies of extraordinary rendition and can one seriously make the argument that these actions are worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize?

Former peace-prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire has expressed her disappointment with this decision for this reason:

Mrs Maguire won the 1976 Nobel award along with fellow Belfast peace campaigner Betty Williams.

"President Obama has yet to prove that he will move seriously on the Middle East, that he will end the war in Afghanistan and many other issues," Mrs Maguire said.

"The Nobel committee is not meeting the conditions of Alfred Nobel's will, because he stipulated that the award is to be given to people who end militarism and war and are for disarmament."

and Glenn Greenwald asks the very stark question:

How can someone responsible for that, and who has only escalated that war, possibly be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the very same year that he did that? Does that picture above look like the work of a Nobel Peace laureate?

It is ludicrous to think that one who works to escalate war and militarism can win one of the highest honors for promoting peace.

This piece is cross posted here.

1 comment:

Grumpy said...

There have been and will continue to be civilian casualties in any war. Nobody complained when German and Japanese civilians died during WWII.