Obama gets Nobbled with Nobels
Barack Obama got the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize because he is not George W Bush. It is hard not to come to this conclusion given he was nominated for the award after only eleven days as President of the United States.
That was my immediate reaction. Yet if this was the case, would Hillary Clinton have been a shoe in had she won the Presidency? Would John McCain have received the prize for his patchy but mostly good record in legislating against torture? As there are some doubt as to the likelihood of these alternative scenarios, I no longer see my initial reaction as a sufficient explanation.
I suspect Obama gained his nomination based on his campaign for President, and the positive response of the American people to his message of 'hope'. Indeed the Norwegian Nobel committee pretty much cite his 'hope' campaign slogan.
"Only rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."
The committee also congratulate Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons".
Obama's speech in Cairo may have been an important change in tone with regards to relations with the Middle East, and his abandonment of an unworkable 'missile defence shield' in Eastern Europe is welcome. That said it still feels like he received the award for his performance in the opening credits, when the major plotlines of his Presidency are still to be revealed.
Obama patently fails to meet one of the criteria set for the Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel wished to acknowledge the person who has done the most for 'the abolition or reduction of standing armies'. Obama has increased troop numbers in the war in Afghanistan and is currently considering a further increase, despite the many examples of unsuccessful 'conquest' of the country. Why send armies to defend Hamed Kazai's dodgy record of electoral fraud and legislation that appears to condone the rape of women within marriage?
A real peacemaker may have instigated a process that sought to bring the waring factions - even the Taliban - into a negotiated settlement, perhaps even a form of shared government, safe in the knowledge that not many guerrillas manage the transition into long term legislators, and can fade away as a result.
It is unfortunate for Obama that the 2009 Peace Prize is likely to be compared with the 1973 award which was controversially won by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho for negotiating the ceasefire in the Vietnam war.
The ceasefire was signed on 23 January 1973, which would have been only a week before nominations would have closed for the Nobel award for that year. Like 2009, the 1973 award was also described as a work in progress. Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho refused the award on the grounds that peace had not really been restored in South Vietnam, and he was right - the ceasefire failed to hold and the war did not finally end until 1975. Le Duc Tho increased his standing by refusing the award, whereas Kissinger accepted with 'humility'.
Yet in the same year, Kissinger "helped" a military coup in Chile that violently removed a democratically elected government. Clearly the Peace Prize is for pieces, and not the whole of ones actions.
Given that Obama has said that he does not feel he deserves "to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize", I wonder if he may have done more to increase his standing had he refused it "at this time".
Many Americans have high expectations of Obama as President, as do many others across the globe. Many politicians are keen to keep in check the expectations of the electorate, yet I am coming to the conclusion Obama attempts to use high expectations to his advantage, even with the inherent political risks of disappointment.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has increased the stakes again.