Obama’s Nobel

I must admit that when I first saw the news last night that Obama had won the Nobel peace prize I though I was looking at a report from The Onion. It was a surprise. But when I started reading the commentary I thought more seriously about it.

The obvious issue was that the award was too early. There is plenty of mocking going on and that is the clear first impression. Behind that is the notion that Obama had not done enough to be deserving of it. After all, all he did was rise up our of a disadvantaged background to become the first African American president of the largest military power in the US all while driving a philosophy and agenda that gave the whole world real hope that the next 8 years will be far more peaceful than the last 8. Hmm. I know that being President kills the past CV but the vast majority of Peace prize winners have done less.

When it comes down to it, this award is a symbol rather than a prize rewarding effort (unlike its scientific counterparts). The Nobel Prize Committee have always been thinking about the message they are sending. And I think that this time it is clear, the US — the only superpower nation — has chosen a President that the rest of the world would have chosen themselves. Not only that, it is on the basis of rhetoric and an accompanying mandate for global engagement and cooperation that is unprecedented in modern times. Basically, the Nobel Prize Committee are awarding the US people for their choice and what it means. In terms of symbolic moves, that seems pretty appropriate even if it is not what we usually expect.

10 thoughts on “Obama’s Nobel”

  1. The peace prize is probably the most difficult one to assign, because it inevitably invokes politics — even more than the economics prize. šŸ˜‰

    There has also been an overrepresentation of US power brokers — the absolute worst being Henry Kissinger šŸ˜¦

    I agree that the prize doesĀ feel premature. I also agree that Obama has raised hope for peace — if not actually created peace. In the end, if the purpose of the prize is to promote peace, and it shames Obama into giving it at least serious lip-service, then this will be a direct hit. šŸ™‚


  2. Indeed, Henry Kissinger’s award caused Tom Lehrer to give up comedy, saying that it had made political satire redundant.


  3. On emoticons: it’s difficult to control them once they’re out of the box. Like the disasterous 20th century emancipation of the apostrophes, their spectre looms over the written word’s. I will, however, try to do my part.

    On Obama, peace, and history: I’m skeptical that he will be able to control the war industry, given the monstrous profits at stake, and itsĀ evidentĀ appetite for ruthlessness. Short of a revolution, all that we can realistically hope for is less blatant profiteering andĀ a “kinder, gentler, machine-gun hand”.

    If the prize pulls us in that direction, and makes Obama think twice before initiating a new military adventure, then it’s money well spent.


  4. The Nobel Peace prize has gone to plenty of people whose rhetoric have been greater than their actions. Don’t forget that Al Gore won it, and the truth is that Obama is probably a more deserving winner than Gore. Also don’t forget that FDR and Churchill never won a Nobel Peace Prize. Defeating Hitler and saving Western Civilization didn’t quite meet the standards (FDR of course died before the war finished, though even then I doubt whether he would have received the Nobel were he to live another 10 years after ’45).


  5. Ā 
    Peace prize has always been a celebrity contest and much more so in recent years.Ā  It also seems to be more of an encouragement award than an acheivement one with a tendency for premature awarding.

    Compare to say physics where the discoveries occurred in the late 60s/early 70s are getting the award now.
    Andrew1, given Churchill’s past I don’t think he was really into promoting the cause of peace.Ā  By that logic the Manhattan Project team should get the prize for creating the bomb to end the war (and prevent future wars between the major powers), but I don’t think anyone would serious go for that.


  6. Politically the award is a disaster for Obama. Ā It lends itself to the attack that he is moreĀ rhetoric thanĀ substance.
    In terms of Obama’s achievements, I don’t think getting to the White House has helped peace at all. Ā It’s what he does in office that will be the measure and it’s too early to assess what he has done.
    So essentially this fails on both measures. Ā It hurts Obama’s chances of raising domestic support for change – so it’s a failure as a symbol – and it’s clearly too early to be a reward.


  7. Joshua:
    So err according to you, no one this year was more deserving or as you describe in different words this was an affirmative action type of prize?


  8. OK, obviously Obama could not deserve the award, as the nomination deadline was 2 weeks after he became president. At that point, they had to be selecting him based upon nothing but promises, and that’s not valid.
    But what moved me to respond was the apparently sarcastic comment that FDR and Churchill not winning the peace prize…the foolishness of this should have been made apparent to the writer by his subsequent statement that the WAR was not over until Churchill was dead.
    You don’t get a peace prize by being involved in a multilateral slaughter, no matter what good might ostensibly have come of it.
    What’s more ridiculous is that Reagan, in one way or another, was the major contributor to the END of the Cold War, without firing a shot, and did not get the award. Especially when you consider that this was largely because of his peace summits with the Soviets that took away the American bogeyman, allowing domestic discontent to be focused upon.
    But, now that I’m here, it’s worth note that the entire set of prizes now anointed “Nobel” are politically driven farces. Take Krugman’s award last year, for what is really a very minor “accomplishment”, but who happened to be a loud proponent for the subsequent government interventionism, at a time when most credible economists oppose it. This gave his heretofore-ignored voice on that topic the illusion of credibility.
    And let’s not forget Al Gore. Whether one believes the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis or not, the topic is hardly a “peace prize” candidate, even aside from the long list of fallacies in his effort and rhetoric, which have ended up being used against his side by its opponents, so that he may have done more harm than good, in the long run.
    I won’t include Carter, his post-presidency efforts in diplomacy and poverty are an almost perfect candidate.
    But, overall, the selections are driven politically, leaving the award with ever-diminishing credibility.


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