Obama's Nobel Peace Prize: Seems A Bit Premature, No?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hey! President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, apparently. I must admit, when I first heard this, my instinct was to email Andy Bichlbaum to see if the Yes Men were behind this. But, no! This is a thing, and it's actually happening. Now, if we can find a way to harness the awesome power of eleventy billion Kanye West jokes for good, there's no end to the wonderful things we can accomplish!

Apparently, Obama was awoken early this morning by Robert Gibbs with the news, which surely led to an awkward moment where Obama said, "Seriously, Gibbs, I am going to hurt you, if this is a joke." Obama is reported to have said that he was "humbled" by the accolade, which is probably the appropriate response for someone who is poised to escalate a war in Afghanistan, and whose government just bombed the Moon, in keeping with counterinsurgency strategy.

But seriously: premature, much? Speaking only for myself, I think that Obama has done a good preliminary job in steering the tone of some contentious international relationships back in a serviceable direction. His commitment to nuclear non-proliferation has and continues to be strong. When the aftermath of the Iran election yielded a fruitful new populist movement on the streets of Tehran, Obama didn't muck it up with a lot of pointless bluster and interference for the sake of demonstrating American "steadfastness." But, this is what those in the accomplishment and accolade business should call "a good start."

Still, there is promise knit up in this award, and opportunities, if they are properly exploited. John Bolton wants Obama to return the award -- knowing Bolton, he'd probably like it thrown very hard at the head of Ban Ki-moon -- but Spencer Ackerman rightly cautions that such a move would be pointlessly counterproductive:

But turning it down would be a slap in the face to an international community that is showing, in the most generous way possible, that it wants the U.S. back as a leading component of the global order. The issue is not Barack Obama. It's what the president represents internationally: a symbol of an America that is willing, once again, to drive the international system forward, together, toward the humane positive-sum goals of peace and disarmament. The fact that Obama hasn't gotten the planet there misses the point entirely. It's that he's beginning, slowly, to take the world again down the path.

Glenn Greenwald, however, urges us to remember that the award can't gloss over "some of the policies over which Obama has presided that are the very opposite of peace."

Through no fault of his own, Obama presides over a massive war-making state that spends on its military close to what the rest of the world spends combined. The U.S. accounts for almost 70% of worldwide arms sales. We're currently occupying and waging wars in two separate Muslim countries and making clear we reserve the "right" to attack a third. Someone who made meaningful changes to those realities would truly be a man of peace. It's unreasonable to expect that Obama would magically transform all of this in nine months, and he certainly hasn't. Instead, he presides over it and is continuing much of it. One can reasonably debate how much blame he merits for all of that, but there are simply no meaningful "peace" accomplishment in his record -- at least not yet -- and there's plenty of the opposite. That's what makes this Prize so painfully and self-evidently ludicrous.

I think that Greenwald would agree with Ackerman when he says, "Progressives have a unique responsibility to hold Obama to his own stated vision, and the vision that the Nobel committee honored today." This is an important admonition. See, as an American, I'm obviously bursting with pride that an American won this award. We should remember that the vision of this place called America begins with each of its citizens, and the power that supports that vision is loaned, by us, to people like Barack Obama. So, this Nobel Peace Prize, first and foremost, is a reflection of this nation's greatness and generosity as well as a reminder of what we all must strive to live up to.

At any rate, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama has already angered Richard Cohen, which is a pretty good start as far as the cause of worldwide peace and human decency is concerned!

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