Friday, October 09, 2009
A Premature Political Prize
Lose the Olympics, get the Nobel Peace Prize?
So, exactly one week after one communal world organization (the International Olympics Committee) delivered President Obama a personal snub by rejecting Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Games, another one (the Nobel Prize Committee) comes up with a "do-over"?
President Obama is now the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Obama, said the committee, has "given [the world's] people hope for a better future."
In its own way, this is almost as embarrassing as Chicago getting dissed by the IOC in the opening round last week -- despite Obama's overtures. He's now been recognized internationally, even as he juggles with a struggling economy and a daunting agenda domestically.
With all due respect to the president, he hasn't done anything to earn such an award, even by the often-warped political messaging in which the Nobel Peace Prize Committee delves.
By contrast, Jimmy Carter didn't get the award when he brokered the 1978 Middle East peace accord between Israel and Egypt; he got it years later as sort of a Lifetime Achievement Award (that also served to poke the Bush administration that was ramping up the case for war with Iraq). Similarly, Bill Clinton never got an award despite his attempts to get a deal done between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the late-90s.
Al Gore got the prize a couple of years ago, but that was also another political statement that affirmed his years of lobbying to get the world to take on global warming.
But this one takes the cake. Talk about premature! The president has made several trips abroad and made many speeches declaring that America was putting aside its presumed belligerence of the last few years. Most notably, Obama spoke at Cairo University to deliver an address to the "Muslim World." These have been part of what presidential critics caustically refer to as Obama's "apology tour."
But, apropos of a charge that Hillary Clinton made during the campaign last year, these are just "words" -- a series of speeches. They are neither one seminal action that brings about peace or understanding between long-antagonistic peoples -- nor, at 48, has he managed to build a body of work worthy of a prestigious award. (Though his anti-Iraq War campaign rhetoric undoubtedly won him some points.)
In fact, given that the committee has a Feb. 1 deadline, Obama had only been in office less than two weeks before he was nominated. This is exactly the opposite of the Arizona State University farce earlier this year. Then, the university chose to snub the president who was delivering a commencement address by not giving him an honorary degree -- because his "body of work" was not yet complete. In fact, having been elected president was a worthy enough achievement to merit an honorary degree.
The Nobel Peace Prize supposedly once meant something, reserved for truly large achievements on the world stage. On that measure, the jury is still way out on President Obama's life and career.
On its face, skeptics could reasonably conclude that the Nobel committee became infatuated with the concept that the American people managed to elect a black man president -- and awarded him for that seminal moment.
Bu that accomplishment was as much about the nation as it was the man. It had nothing to do with the supposed criteria for earning a Nobel Peace Prize. The committee should be embarrassed.