DISSENT: Presidential Power

Obama deserves the Nobel Prize

“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world. And who has done more than Barack Obama?” said the chairman of the Nobel Committee, after announcing that President Obama had won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. It is this question, not one’s opinion on Obama’s domestic policies or what he might do in the future, that is the salient issue when evaluating whether Obama should have won the prize. And in this regard, Obama is clearly the most deserving candidate.

In the past year, Obama has changed the tenor of international diplomacy through his speeches and actions. The results have not been visibly shocking, but that does not mean his accomplishment should be dismissed. Major conflicts do not start when the first shot is fired; they start when the first harsh word is thrown and when antagonism builds at a local level between individuals. Obama’s repeatedly stated commitment to open-minded dialogue is preventing and mitigating grassroots antagonism around the world.

For example, in the president’s June 2009 speech from Cairo to the Islamic world, he quoted the Koran several times and even started with the Islamic greeting, “salaam aleikum.” The clash of Western and Islamic countries marks a major fracture in international peace. Thus, Obama’s stated desire to gain a better understanding of Islamic culture is a big step forward for everyone. Speaking in places such as Ghana and Germany, he has made a similar effort to change people’s entrenched assumptions about conflict in many regions.

When people say, “but they’re just words,” they seem to be forgetting that it is the president of the United States who is saying them—someone who can back up such words with executive control of a trillion-dollar economy and thousands of troops. It is a plain reality that, in nine months in office, President’s Obama’s actions have had more of an effect on the world than a lifetime of work by most activists. This does not make the efforts of advocates such as Burma’s Aung San Su Kyi or Bill and Melinda Gates any less praiseworthy, but it does put them in perspective. As “the leader of the free world,” the American president’s words do matter.

Ask anyone who has traveled abroad in the past year—Obama has brought a change in the international perception of the United States and a renewed confidence that long-standing conflicts can be resolved. Perhaps the Nobel Committee has recognized this and is indicating “political” support for this newly conciliatory U.S. position. But, even so, what’s actually so wrong with that? It would be a little hypocritical if the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize did not in itself promote peace.

Anita J Joseph ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House.