Friday, October 23, 2009

Obama and the Peace Prize

Oath of office of the President of the United ...Image via Wikipedia

Now that the right wing outrage has died down after the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, maybe we can take a more objective look at what it means.

Granted, it may have been a little premature to nominate him a month after taking office, but perhaps it was his campaign and his philosophy not his administration which caught the eye of the committee.

After decades of racial strife in our country, the idea that a black man could win such a resounding victory in the election has to be worth something. His election, whether the red staters like to admit it or not, was an historic demonstration of the power of hope and change.

The campaign brought together people from many different backgrounds, ethnicities and education levels. It was unlike any campaign in the history of our country. Shouldn’t Obama get some credit for uniting a country with a long history of racial injustice? Just last week, a judge in Louisiana refused to marry an interracial couple. Obama’s ability to transcend this kind of ingrained racism and win the election is remarkable. Some might even say it was prize worthy.

For those who claim he hasn’t done anything to deserve the award seem to overlook that this award is an international award, not one limited to our country. Millions of people in Africa danced in the street on election day. European leaders rejoiced that they would finally have a President who would actually use diplomacy before calling in the troops. Millions of citizens of African descent looked to the leader of the free world and saw someone who looked like them. Yes, Obama has struggled with health care reform and reviving our economy, but that’s not what the Nobel Peace Prize is all about. Critics of this award need to look beyond our borders and see what he election has meant to the world. That’s what the prize is about.

All that might be reason enough, but let’s add this to the mix: Obama made one statement which rises above the rest. On January 9, weeks before his inauguration and before the Nobel nomination deadline, he said, “I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture…We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals.” Considering the policies and practices (both documented and undocumented) of his predecessor, this statement alone might have been enough for some members of the Nobel committee to nominate Obama.

What is becoming increasingly clear is how much the international political and diplomatic community loathed George W. Bush and his administration. I’m not even sure if “loathed” is a strong enough word. Whether this hatred is justified or not, it was evident and influenced how the world viewed America. This simple statement reversed years of obfuscation and deception which characterized the Bush administration’s foreign policy. For the legion of Bush apologists out there, Fox News is not exactly as “fair and balanced” as you have been led to believe. Just because we choose not to “aggressively interrogate” detainees doesn’t mean we have become weak.

Our problems in this country are significant (and let’s not forget that President Obama inherited these problems from a Republican president), but the Nobel Peace Prize has NOTHING to do with our domestic issues. Obama’s unifying influence, strong statements and subsequent actions to reverse the horrors of Bush’s foreign policy has had a more profound effect on the international community than we can understand here at home.

Was Obama’s Nobel award a bit premature? Probably. But, does it give him more international credibility? Absolutely.

That’s a good thing.

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