Friday, October 09, 2009

Peace Prize for Obama

Today the Nobel Committee stunned Barack Obama's supporters and detractors alike when it awarded the sitting U.S. president with its Nobel Peace Prize.

In its statement, the Committee cited our president's ongoing efforts to shift the tone away from his predecessor's unilateral approach to resolving international disputes while fostering a climate of mutual cooperation. "Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics," the Committee asserted. "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play."

It referred to our president as "the world's leading spokesman" for "international cooperation and cooperation between peoples." Specifically, the Committee credited our president for his declaration of support for a "world free of nuclear weapons" and attempts to reach out to the broader international community.

To his credit the president has reached out to the Syrians and the Iranians. Last week his administration welcomed a high ranking Syrian official to Washington for talks and he reinforced his commitment to negotiate with the Iranians in good faith over its nuclear enrichment program (he did not use the Qum nuclear site discovery as a pretext to break off future talks).

The new administration's shift in strategy is no doubt welcomed by those of us, who thought that the strategy adopted by his predecessor did not work. Awarding the president with this honor does, however seem premature. The Nobel Committee did not base its decision on the president's accomplishments and in fact it couldn't have. The president's approach is, for obvious reasons, a work in progress. Nine months isn't a long time particularly when the president has to start by re-establishing ties long broken, let alone deal with the thorny issues that divide us.

Some believe this award was given in part to, to the Committee's desire to endorse the president's approach to resolving political disputes and to reject the approach adopted by his predecessor, George W. Bush. To this end, it lowered its standards considerably.

We should expect our leaders to at least try to resolve our political differences at the negotiating table before they level our opponents' cities and we should expect our leaders to try to resolve their political differences rather than let them grow and fester.

Honoring President Obama in this way insults the memory of those who, like former President Jimmy Carter, accomplished something. This award should go to those who bring once taciturn enemies like Egypt and Israel together at the negotiating table or those who, like the late Yitzak Rabin and the late Yasser Arafat, sign peace agreements moving their people's towards peace.

The Nobel Peace Prize belongs to them. It belongs to the authors of the peace treaties and the ones who help them bridge the divide. It belongs to those who put their lives and their reputations on the line. It belongs to the statesmen or women who would be called traitors for negotiating in good faith with the enemy. It belongs to the organizations like Doctors Without Borders to care for those trapped in war-torn countries. It doesn't belong with the person who dreams of a better future. Anyone can do that but the job of bringing seemingly irreconcilable groups together belongs with a select few. President Obama may one day deserve the award he will officially receive in December. He does not today.

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