In late 2009 President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
I was finishing up my Peace Corps training, acclimating to a new country, new culture, new opportunities and was barely aware of what was happening on the world stage in general, in the US in particular.
So it was old news when I returned in 2011, and I have only recently given it some thought, as a friend of mine brought it up in a manner critical of the President. Not an unusual position for him to be critical of the President, but it did pique my interest.
As I researched I discovered that there was quite a controversy stirred by the announcement, in the US in particular. Mr. Obama had been in office a scant nine months and many thought he did not deserve such a prestigious honor. From his remarks at the time, it seems Mr. Obama too was surprised by the award, and thought he did not deserve to stand in the company of those who preceded him. The prize includes more than a million dollars in cash, which money Mr. Obama donated to various charities.
Regardless of our current personal economic status, most of us residing here in the vast wealth and security of the US have little idea what it’s like outside the walls of our country. We understand that we are the last remaining superpower, we take for granted our roads and telephones and electricity and supermarkets, Walmarts and coffee houses, gated communities, hospitals and overwhelming military.
For much of the world, America has been the City on the Hill, a protector, a place of peace and security, and above all, a force for good and a mighty one at that.
We in America can discuss and debate the reality of that, but for most of the rest of the world it is a given that when the US talks, countries listen. When the US moved militarily, its cause was just.
Since 9/11 and our invasion of Iraq in 2003, that perception changed.
Whatever we might think of it here, much of the world was aghast at our invasion of Iraq, no matter what they might have thought of the political climate there. We invaded a sovereign country on scant evidence and strong-armed allies to take part. And politicians in any country with some degree of savvy understood the oil connection. You can agree or disagree with the aforementioned, but the perception from outside the US was that the US, with nuclear warheads and the mightiest army on earth was acting an enraged bull, acting on its own narrow interests, the rest of the world be damned.
That is hardly a recipe for peace in the world. Hegemony, perhaps. Dominance. But not peace.
President Obama when first in office had enormous challenges overfilling his plate, but he took it upon himself to begin the long process of remounting some moral high ground in the world, asserting common goals with diverse populations, assuring others that the US would again follow the same rules it demanded of others.
The Nobel Committee gave the award to President Obama for “"for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." The New York Times reported that Committee Chair Thorbjorn Jagland shrugged off the question of whether "the committee feared being labeled naïve for accepting a young politician’s promises at face value", stating that "no one could deny that 'the international climate' had suddenly improved, and that Mr. Obama was the main reason...'We want to embrace the message that he stands for.'" (Wikipedia)
It was my assertion then and my assertion now that our invasion of Iraq was exactly the wrong thing to do, sending exactly the wrong message to the world, assuring an almost inexhaustible supply of terrorists.
President Obama in reaching out to our allies and in particular in reaching out to Muslim nations began the long process of rebuilding trust. He took a lot of heat for it here at home, but it was what needed to be done if ever we are going to build a world with some security and an eye towards the possibility of peace.
His acceptance speech in Stockholm was brilliant, but probably not what the Nobel Committee expected or was used to. He asserted a view towards peace tempered with the knowledge that force can and sometimes must be used.
“I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naïve in the creed and lives of Gandhi, and of (Martin Luther) King, but as a head of state, sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is. I cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake; evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism, it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man, and the limits of reason.”
He went on to say, “Part of our Challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths, that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. President Kennedy said, “let us focus on a more practical more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature, but in a gradual evolution in human institutions.””
I think he was awarded the prize for working towards the gradual evolution of our own flawed system, and I think it was well deserved.