Monday, October 12, 2009

More Thoughts on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

I was interviewed recently about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize by WTAP and the Marietta Times. Since those interviews were edited, I wanted to share a more thorough account of my thoughts on the event, and some other reactions from the media and blogosphere.

As many have already noted, the choice of Obama by the Nobel Committee was a big surprise. This reaction is fairly universal. Even many of Obama's supporters, and Obama himself, seemed perplexed at the decision. For instance, Ruth Marcus, a liberal Obama supporter, said on the News Hour, "the Nobel Peace Prize isn't like peewee soccer, where everybody gets a nice trophy for trying hard and being part of the team." Plus, Saturday Night Live had lampooned Obama less than a week prior to the announcement for not having any major accomplishments.

The choice seems especially odd in light of the fact that Obama is a war time president. He has sent more troops to Afghanistan, as he promised he would in the campaign, and if he accepts his general's recommendations, will send another 40,000 troops.

Much like the Olympic Committee's decision to pass on Chicago, I don't place any blame on Obama for this happening, but it makes Obama look bad, nonetheless. While the Nobel Committee said they were showing support for Obama's goals, it ironically made those goals more difficult to achieve. Many commentators have agreed with my earlier assessment that this will hurt more than help Obama. This Week in Race argues, for instance, that being honored by "foreigners" may perpetuate a stereotype of Obama as "other," un-American, or unpatriotic.

Some, such as David Brooks on the Newshour or Ross Douthat in the New York Times, have suggested that Obama should have turned down the committee's offer. In his speech accepting the prize, Obama made of point of saying, "I WILL accept this offer," with emphasis on the word "will". This suggests to me that he had considered saying "no thanks" to the committee. If my instincts are correct, this would be an astonishing recognition of the dubious nature of the Committee's choice. I agree with Douthat that turning down the committee would have been a boon for his popularity on the domestic front.

The Nobel Committee continues to erode their own credibility in their choices. If committee members want to use the prize to influence global opinion, as they say they do, they should make choices that most agree are well deserved, and that brings attention to those who really need it. To help Obama achieve his goals, for example, the Nobel Committee could have chosen the Iranian protesters. This may have helped Obama and the world community to stop the Iranians from enriching uranium--an accomplishment certainly worthy of a peace prize.

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