Teddy, Woody and Barack
by Charles Lemos, Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 04:12:25 PM EDT
And so President Barack Obama joins Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as the the third sitting President to win a Nobel Peace Prize. But there should end the comparison. Both Roosevelt and Wilson won their Prizes on the basis of achievements; Obama seems to have won his on promises articulated, eloquently in the eyes of some, naively in the view of others.
Theodore Roosevelt won his in 1906 for his role in ending the Russo-Japanese War though in the peace treaty signed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire were sown the seeds of a greater war in the Pacific. And Woodrow Wilson won his in 1919 for his role in shaping a post-war world at Versailles even if his vision was not fully accepted both at home and abroad. Furthermore the haphazard Wilsonian world created artificial states while suppressing the liberties and aspirations of peoples the world over. Both of these are a bitter Wilsonian legacy and they continue to plague the international system and dampen the hopes of peace.
The Nobel Committee in Oslo chose Obama for more what, or perhaps more accurately who, he is not than for what he has achieved which is precious little as yet. "Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics," the Committee wrote. "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play." Can as in might, as in the conditional. Climate is also an odd choice of words given the Administration's confusing, and I am being kind by only calling it confusing, approach to the Kyoto Protocol.
More from the New York Times:
Interviewed later in the Nobel Committee's wood-paneled meeting room, surrounded by photographs of past winners, Mr. Jagland brushed aside concerns expressed by some critics that Mr. Obama remains untested.
"The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world," Mr. Jagland said. "And who has done more than Barack Obama?"
He compared the selection of Mr. Obama with the award in 1971 to the then West German Chancellor Willy Brandt for his "Ostpolitik" policy of reconciliation with communist eastern Europe.
"Brandt hadn't achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall," Mr. Jagland said. "We have to get the world on the right track again," he said. Without referring specifically to the Bush era, he continued: "Look at the level of confrontation we had just a few years ago. Now we get a man who is not only willing but probably able to open dialogue and strengthen international institutions."
I am not sure how a man who has committed 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan and who now faces a decision of doubling up and who has ordered the escalation of aerial war in Pakistan that has claimed more innocent civilian lives than actual targets qualifies as one who has enhanced peace even if I appreciate the President's words and efforts on nuclear disarmament as well as his role in bringing the US back into the community of nations. How does Obama's decision to expand American militarism into Colombia qualify him as a man of peace? How does Obama's quest to find a home for Africom qualify him as a man of peace? American militarism is alive and well in the age of Obama and the Nobel Peace Committee has ignored the dark side of Obama, that he represents a continuation of the American Empire, not a break from it.
I generally concur with Glenn Greenwald of Salon who writes:
Through no fault of his own, Obama presides over a massive war-making state that spends on its military close to what the rest of the world spends combined. The U.S. accounts for almost 70% of worldwide arms sales. We're currently occupying and waging wars in two separate Muslim countries and making clear we reserve the "right" to attack a third. Someone who made meaningful changes to those realities would truly be a man of peace. It's unreasonable to expect that Obama would magically transform all of this in nine months, and he certainly hasn't. Instead, he presides over it and is continuing much of it. One can reasonably debate how much blame he merits for all of that, but there are simply no meaningful "peace" accomplishment in his record -- at least not yet -- and there's plenty of the opposite. That's what makes this Prize so painfully and self-evidently ludicrous.
I have a hard time rewarding rhetoric even if eloquent and inspirational. This is a Prize wholly undeserved as yet that cheapens the efforts of others such as Dr. Sima Simar, Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) who established the Shuhada Organization which focuses on health care for Afghan women, or of Dr. Denis Mukwege who has been treating women and girls who have been victims of sexual violence in the DR Congo for ten years now, or even former President Bill Clinton, perhaps atoning for past sins of deed and omission, who with his Clinton Global Initiative is actually changing lives at home and abroad. These are accomplishments worth noting.
Here is the full press release from the Nobel Committee:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
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.
For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."
I don't disagree that now is the time to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges but I have no reason to believe based on the empirical evidence so far that it is wishful thinking at best or empty rhetoric at worst. I await achievements for promises we have always had aplenty. And I am reasonably confident that come 2017, President Obama will pass the torch to another, hopefully more Progressive, Democrat having accomplished much both at home and abroad. This is a Prize a decade too soon.