Obama Wins Nobel(?)

Ben Whelan

Is it awesome that President Barrack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize? No question. The guy’s a freakin charisma geyser, when he tells you he’s going to alter the course of world history you believe him, and anytime an American wins an international award, score one for the USA. However, on closer inspection, the choice of Obama as the recipient of this award is somewhat troubling for any number of reasons, mostly having to do with the question of why he was given the award out of a pool 200 nominees (the largest group ever) and whether he actually deserves this honor or not.

During Obama’s entire campaign he was billed as the candidate for change, running on a message of hope for the future. All well and good, but we, the people who put him in office, don’t live in some idealistic future. We live in the present and we want some tangible results. In some ways, it seems like this award was given by a global community that, much like the American people, are betting on the potential good that Obama will do rather than his established track record of success. To be fair, that’s all you can really judge him on, because he has no track record at this point.

There is no question that Obama has a lot of ideas that have the potential to make the world a better place. He hopes to engage in multi-lateral approaches to international problem solving, he hopes to reduce stores of nuclear arms, he has made overtures to an incredulous Muslim world hoping to build bridges between East and West, and has acknowledged global warming as a major issue that he hopes to treat as a priority. Unfortunately, hoping that something will happen and having good ideas are a far cry from actually affecting change and making things happen. We can see that on the home front, where Obama has yet to follow through on any of his lofty promises regarding domestic policy (Guantanamo is still open, no carbon emissions legislation has been passed, the deficit has increased dramatically…).

Besides, while you could argue that Obama has already made a major international impact just by changing the culture of American leadership and its role in the new world order, he was nominated only two weeks into his term in office. At that time all we had to go on was promises he made during his campaign, and a politicians campaign promises have about as much value as the air that they’re spoken into.

Now we don’t know all of the other nominees (the complete list is sealed for 50 years), but the few that we do know have not only brought a spirit of hope in humanity to the table, but have made actual concrete contributions to the world that go beyond the theoretical. One example is Greg Mortenson of Bozeman, Montana who has devoted his life to activism through education in some of the neediest areas in the world. Over the last fifteen years, Mr. Mortensen has built nearly 80 schools, mostly focused on educating girls, in remote areas of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan through the Central Asian Institute that he founded. Another example is Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who has been fighting the oppressive regime of President Robert Mugabe for decades and has survived numerous arrests and assassination attempts in his fight to bring democracy, prosperity, and peace to his nation. These are just two of the candidates that we know of who were passed over and in both cases they are far less well known than the leader of the free world and would certainly benefit more from the exposure that the award provides.

So given that Obama has no established track record and there are plenty of other viable candidates who in many ways could get more mileage out of receiving the award, how did he end up with the prize?

First of all, Obama is so popular right now that if he was nominated for a Latin Grammy or a Daytime Emmy, he’d have a pretty good shot. It’s a shame that the Nobel has become such a popularity contest as it waters down this once meaningful award.

Furthermore, the scenario that makes the most sense is that the Nobel committee hoped to lend international credibility to the head of a nation that is badly in need of it. An extremely powerful force on the international scene, the world has a lot to gain from an America that is seemingly willing to cooperate with the rest of the world and that new, friendly America needs a figurehead. Committee secretary Geir Lundestad all but admitted that this was the case when explaining the selection.

“When a president makes all these changes on these ideals, which are the ideals the Norwegian Nobel committee has had for a hundred years, we felt it was right to strengthen him as much as we can in this further struggle for these ideals.” said Lundestad.

The committee in this way used the awarding of the prize as a tool to legitimize the participation of this president, and therefore the nation, in international affairs. Basically, this is a message from the Nobel committee to the world: It’s cool to be friends with the U.S. again. That’s fine, and in the long run it may help this administration make progress, but that’s not what the award is meant to be. The award is meant to recognize the efforts of those who have made great strides in making contributions to the human race, not to “strengthen” a political figure in the hopes that they will make such contributions. That’s like awarding the MVP award to a high school athlete because they’re expected to be good and the award will help them get drafted; it’s totally backwards.

The bottom line is that the Nobel committee should be using there power to bring recognition (and the $1 million prize) to someone who has earned it and deserves it, not to play politics and try to shape a new world order.