October 10, 2009

The Peace Prize, Unexpected but Deserved

After the American CenturyJustify Full
Yes, it is a bit surprising that Obama received the Peace Prize already in his first year as President. But no, I do not think it is undeserved, though this seems to be the standard pundit's response in the US today, where I happened to hear the news while driving across Pennsylvania. Obama has done quite a bit for a man in office far less than a year. Not one commentator that I heard over the afternoon noted it, but he has abandoned the Bush program of installing missiles in Eastern Europe, while angered the Russians and blocked progress in many other areas. This was a major change that opens the way for progress while giving up on an idea that did not make a great deal of sense in strategic or military terms. (It also would cost a lot of money, now saved.) Then there was a major speech given at the University of Cairo, opening a useful dialogue with the Arab world. These two things alone are more than George W. Bush did for peace in 8 years.

But this is not the whole list. Obama has talented full-time negotiators trying to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to talk again, and he has tried to be an honest broker, pushing the Israelis to stop the illegal settlements on the West Bank. Obama has also pressured Iran to abandon its nuclear program, but done so with softer rhetoric than Bush, and tried to begin a dialogue, albeit an almost impossible task with the current leaders in Teheran.

And what about saving the American economy from collapsing? This in itself has been a major achievement of his administration, and it did help to keep the world from spiralling downwards into economic collapse. Peace is not so easy to work for in poverty as it is in prosperity.

But most of all, Obama's achievement of becoming the first non-white person to be elected to the highest office anywhere in Europe or the Americas, must have looked to the Norwegian committee like a powerful demonstration that racial differences can be transcended, that millions of white people could trust and vote for a black person. Apparently, not only the Republican Party but also the pundits, just do not get this. But it made a tremendous impact in the rest of the world, and Obama is not only a symbol of hope, but proof that hope is not delusional.

Ironically, most Europeans and the Nobel Prize committee can see Obama more clearly than the blathering commentators on American radio and television. I admit that I am a little surprised he won this soon, but he would have to be on anyone's short list for the years immediately to come, had he not received it now.