10.10.2009

In An Uproar Over Peace


I haven’t gotten a chance to read all 5 kajillion articles and posts about Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, but I believe I can summarize the vast majority of the virtual conversation as follows: “Are you kidding me?” “Well, who else would you give it to?” “But what has he actually done?” “Hater.”

Not that this, the 5 kajillionth and one post, will add anything more to what has been an extraordinary torrent of opinion on all sides, but let me point out something I read from Foreign Policy's Ronald Krebs, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

"The Nobel Peace Prize's aims are expressly political. The Nobel committee seeks to change the world through the prize's very conferral, and, unlike its fellow prizes, the peace prize goes well beyond recognizing past accomplishments. As Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the 1990s, once proudly admitted, "The prize ... is not only for past achievement. ... The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] ... Nobel wanted the prize to have political effects. Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act."

In other words, it doesn't have to be earned; it can simply be conferred to make a statement with a particular political aim in mind. And with Obama's honor coming on the heels of Al Gore's in 2007, let there be no doubt as to what that political aim are. As a right-leaner and one who wants to make sure there's as much bipartisan discussion as possible, of course I am a bit annoyed. But, if the awarders want to put out there that Obama's impressive rhetoric about Islam and the US, a nuclear-free world, and peace in the Middle East are worth honoring, under the hope that affirming hope fervently enough will eventually lead to the thing that is hoped for coming true, that's their right to go in that direction.

I don't completely discount as useless the recognition of a transcendent global figure casting forth a bold and expansive message concerning peace in this world. In this regard, I don't think it is true that Barack Obama is completely undeserving of this honor, or that it helps the cause of peace in the world for him to turn it down. (Although I will note, parenthetically, that you have to hand it to those dovish Norwegians for essentially saying, "We're giving you this award, so you better not go hawkish on us now!") I do think less of the Nobel Peace Prize as an honor of distinction, but again, if they want to make a political statement, that's on them to do.

The irony to me is that far too many of the 5 kajillion articles and posts on this subject have been anything but peaceful in their tone. It's a shame that we have become so polarized. Whether we are too cynical to swallow Obama's rhetoric or he is too naive for speaking it, the fact that we spill forth so much bile against those who are against us on the issue of him and his words does not bode well for world peace.

So while I honestly do acknowledge a remarkable honor for a remarkable man, in the hopes this bold statement by the conferees of the Nobel Peace Prize leads to more progress, I am a bit flustered by the dent in the their legitimacy, and by the reaction of too many of us world citizens, who have decided to use this news as opportunity to vilify and denigrate and abase their intellectual opposition. Don't we understand that peace in this world isn't going to be reached by sameness of opinion, but rather by civility and respect amidst disagreement?
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