The Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s announcement last Friday that Barack Obama would become the next recipient of its prestigious award caught the whole world—including the White House—by surprise. And the committee’s assertion that Obama deserved the Nobel Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” has done little to mollify critics, who note that there is little in the way of substantial, sustained progress toward peace on Obama’s resume. Indeed, the elevation of speeches and promises over concrete achievements involved in Obama’s selection suggests that the committee did not award the Nobel to the individual who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Undoubtedly, Obama has made efforts toward peace and set a refreshing tone after eight years of the Bush administration’s belligerent foreign policy. His many overtures toward peace with the Middle East such as his momentous speech in Cairo and his vision of a non-nuclear world as expressed in Prague are undeniable evidence that Obama is a president whose desires are certainly in line with those of the Nobel Committee.
But this is not tantamount to making real, sustained progress toward peace. Obama is coming up on his nine-month anniversary of becoming the 44th president of the United States, and though he has demonstrated bold vision, there has been too little time for his plans to come to fruition. The tenor of our relations with the Middle East may have changed, but our engagement in two wars there has not. Obama may have expressed sincere desires for a nuke-free world, but these weapons are still very much in existence.
In many ways, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s move seems to be little more than a rebuke of the previous administration. It would be naïve to say that the Nobel Peace Prize is not a political statement, but this year the political agenda appears particularly blatant. The award seems in this case to be a reaction that was 8 years coming, rather than a matter of desert.
But the Nobel Prize Committee’s misguided attempt to make a political statement should not reflect poorly upon President Obama or his presidency thus far. The Nobel Peace Prize was the last thing on Obama’s mind when he received the award. Additionally, the president responded with appropriate humility by noting that he did not feel he deserved the prize and has done the best thing he can reasonably be expected to do in such a situation by treating the award as a “call to action.” Hopefully, President Obama’s noble sentiments will translate into a real change in the course of international affairs and allow him to become someone who deserves to be called a great peacemaker.