Obama gets Nobel: really?

Friday 9 October 2009

As I came downstairs this morning, I was given the remote control and said I maybe wanted to check out the news: Obama getting the Nobel prize, NASA blowing up the moon, the Red Sox losing.  “Lots to catch up on,” I was told.

The NASA moon thing was weird enough, but did I hear correctly that Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize?  “For what?” I asked myself.  And from watching a few minutes of CNN and then reading a few articles and facebook comments online, I wasn’t the only one asking, “Really?”  Even Obama said he wasn’t sure he’d done enough to earn the award yet.
(NY Times article and AP article)

In an answer to my “For what?“ question, the Nobel committee gives this reason: “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

“Extraordinary efforts?”  The guy has been in office less than a year.  While it’s thought the prize is meant to act as an encouragement for Obama to keep doing what he’s doing, does Mr. Obama really need encouragement?  His political career has continued to show he’s a pragmatist who likes to talk and involve everyone, and he’s not likely to do a 180 any time soon.  However, with decisions on Afghanistan still on the table, maybe this comes at a time that will compel him to think about how more troops might hinder peace (though I doubt it).

A quick reading of Wikipedia‘s entries on the Nobel Peace Prize and past Peace Prize laureates shows controversy has surrounded the award for years.  There is not only a long list of names who never received the prize, such as someone named Gandhi, but also those who, like Mr. Obama, who received the prize maybe a bit before it was due.  As I thought about the talk of Mr. Obama receiving this award somewhat prematurely, the case of 1994’s winners came immediately to my mind.  That year, the winners were Yasser Arafat of Palestine and Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, both of Israel, “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.” As I heard someone say in a news report this morning, it’s basically “an A for effort.”  Few would argue there is current peace in the Middle East, and many might say that the situation is no better (and maybe even worse) than it was before the 1994 trio got involved.

So while it may be in some ways nice of the Nobel committee to recognize “efforts” (in fact, the 2008 and 2007 winners citations use that word as well), maybe just a little in the area of results would have been nice.  There were over 200 nominated this year alone: was this really the best choice?  And there have been past years where no award was given: should this have been one of those years as well?

But as they say, “We’ll let history be the judge of that.”

Update: The critiques just keep on coming.  “Most Valuable President”