By The Editors
There was something disturbing about the sight of self-professed patriots cheering as Chicago was ruled out as an Olympic host city. Yet their malicious glee was hardly unpredictable. Indeed, given their history, it should come as no surprise that these same individuals, who short years ago could reify patriotism in the figure of the president, would now decry presidential success as a mockery of the world and of the country.
Yet the fact that we expect such knee-jerk vitriol from the Right neither justifies nor excuses such juvenile and distasteful behavior as the dismissal of Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize as “affirmative action,” or the suggestion that McCain should have won the prize because he pushed through the surge in Iraq. Conservatives too may find solace in Obama’s award. Immediately following the announcement of Obama’s selection, William Kristol wrote, “Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. A year later, he was out of power and the Soviet Union had dissolved.”
Indeed the explosion of conservative spleen, dubbed “Obama Reaction Syndrome” by Rachel Maddow, provided a striking juxtaposition with the way Obama himself handled the situation. In calm tones, the president noted his personal surprise and humility, while expressing his belief that the prize represented a ‘call to action’ and a further mandate for international cooperation.
In short, the president spoke solemnly and with a degree of grace that was utterly lacking in the blind vituperations of conservative beltway pundits. Yet disbelief and doubt over Obama’s right to the prize were symptomatic in many segments of American society immediately following the announcement. While a degree of skepticism is understandable, and unbiased analysis a positive addition to a national dialogue, that Americans had such trouble accepting the world’s praise merely reaffirms the importance of choosing Obama as Nobel Laureate.
In 2003, when George W. Bush landed on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and declared “mission accomplished,” a great part of America cheered along with the media, celebrating what was even then apparent as an artificial, contrived milestone in our foreign affairs. Yet this month, when our president was honored by a neutral, external board of review, Americans and American media, far from donning party hats, raised their eyebrows or their piercing voices of dissent.
Perhaps, as a nation, we became so acculturated to the unilateral militarism that characterized the Bush-Cheney years that we are no longer as able to understand the significance a president who actively engages and cooperates with the rest of the world. It was not so long ago that Americans blacklisted the Dixie Chicks, and followed the lead of congressmen like Republican Bob Ney (now in prison) in replacing “French fries” with “Freedom fries” in a wave of irrational Francophobia. Those were the days of calling sovereign nations “axes of evil,” the days of United Nations ambassador John Bolton, the man who dismissed the significance of the UN entirely.
The purpose of this article is not to designate President Obama as the “right” pick for the Nobel Peace Prize, but merely to point out that choosing him was not an outrageous leap. At the time of his nomination, Obama had demonstrated not only his commitment to such peaceful enterprises as talks with Iran, nuclear disarmament, and the shuttering of Guantanamo Bay, but had also demonstrated his ability to garner the support of the American people for such enterprises. Obama’s openness and pledged cooperation were particularly striking and moving given their contrast with his predecessor’s modus operandi governing international relations.
In response to those critics who assert that President Obama has not yet definitively accomplished enough to merit this level of international distinction, it is important to remember that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded for efforts undertaken and not necessarily results achieved. Jimmy Carter never actually brought peace to the Middle East. Desmond Tutu received the prize in 1984 for working towards toppling the Apartheid government in South Africa, but only ten years later, in 1994, did the Apartheid regime collapse.
Therefore, Obama strikes the right chord when he calls the prize a call to action. At best, the honor will provide the president with more diplomatic and political capital with which he can further his efforts. At the very least, it publically rewards the promise and ideal of cooperation and diplomatic maturity. The Nobel Peace Prize has always rewarded actions that follow a valued ideal. This year’s prize was no exception. The award is a remarkable piece of symbolism, bestowed upon Obama in recognition that he is undeniably on the right track. Whether or not we are skeptical that Obama was the most appropriate choice for this year’s honor, we must recognize the prize as an honor and an indication that the international community has again accepted the United States as a reliable member of a greater community of nations.