It is said that Obama has received the Nobel Peace Prize without having any concrete accomplishments. To the contrary, in his eight months in office he has worked for peace in very concrete ways. Take the race question in the United States, still a purulent, throbbing wound that stirs up conflict. Since the eve of his election in his Philadelphia speech until his recent peaceful and pacifying response to the alarmist remarks with which Jimmy Carter evoked the persistence of racial conflict in the Deep South, Obama does not cease repairing, cauterizing, mending, in short, pacifying.
Nor have his actions only been in words. When the planet's most powerful man rallies the UN Security Council to the idea of ending nuclear proliferation, it's hardly a matter of mere words. And what about the hand he extended to Islam in his Cairo speech? It's a speech, but more than a speech since it puts an end to eight years of Bushite stupidities and sounds the death knell on the discourse of the clash of civilizations, which was until now the American response to the war launched by bin Laden. When the president of the United States reaches out to moderate Muslims and tells them that America is their ally not their enemy, it's more than just words. It's an event, a historical event that clearly goes in the direction of peace.
Does Obama do this, some ask, as a Westerner or as a citizen of the world or even as a Muslim? Plainly, he speaks and acts as a Westerner. The Cairo speech is a great Kennedyesque kind of presidential speech which says straight to the Muslim world: we are your friends, your brothers, but it remains for you to achieve what the West has painfully and painstakingly undergone and what you are the only part of the world not yet to have undertaken: exorcising in yourselves and among yourselves, in your memories and your hearts, the memory of fascism in which in the past you have been steeped no less than Westerners -- and which has its continuation in movements like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
While a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often held up as something the West must give the Muslim world to advance peace, Obama fully grasps that peace is not just tit-for-tat. Dialogue and peace have to be a common, a shared construction. And Obama has done -- again it is a deed, not just words -- an absolutely enormous thing. His predecessors, Clinton as well as Bush, waited until the final year of their second term to suddenly realize the existence of the Israeli-Palestinian war and to concoct a vague solution that might enhance their legacy. Obama himself has done the opposite. He has thrown himself in motion from the first day of his first term. And he has done it to the chorus of Israeli and Palestinian citizens who cry out in one voice, "Peace Now."
Consider as well his approach to the Iranian problem. Nicolas Sarkozy asserts -- and he's not wrong -- that Tehran is pursuing its nuclear program under the cover of dialogue and negotiation. I assert in turn that El-Baradei and his teams are going to be able to visit the new nuclear site at Qom. To what do we owe this sudden show of "wisdom" on the part of Iranian leaders who are better known for being arrogant? To Obama's mix of firmness and dialogue, which I believe is the only way of being taken seriously in Iran. In other words, never has the perspective of war seemed less credible than today to the leaders in Tehran, and never has the "exit" door of a diplomatic solution been so open. It is because Obama has made this combination of toughness and dialogue, because he has deftly maneuvered through the diplomatico-miltary trap, that he has begun to make the fanatics step back.
Similarly in Afghanistan, Obama is behind a new strategy that goes beyond the idiotic alternative of withdrawal or troop buildup and whose results I think we are going to see very quickly.
Isn't the very idea of giving the Nobel Peace Prize to a sitting head of state who makes war, and may do so tomorrow even more so, ultimately strange? Not if you think, as I do, that the war in Afghanistan is a just war whose sole aim is peace. I am of course sad for the Afghan feminist Sima Samar, the Chinese dissident Hu Jia, and the Colombian Piedad Cordoba, all of whom also merit the prize. But isn't there a point on which paradoxically Obama joins them? President though he is, he too is a person who is clearly, concretely, physically threatened. He too in his own country is someone whom a part of America has literally condemned to death. And he is a man who belongs, if I may put it this way, to two families. The family of those singular men and women whose lives are in danger because of their struggle for peace. And the family of the other great heads of state who have won the Nobel before him, two of whom, Rabin and Sadat, it must be said, ended up being assassinated.
Let us say that from this standpoint the Nobel contributes to providing him "sanctuary." Sanctuary not sanctification. And it considerably reinforces him in dealing with people like Ahmadinejad, the leaders of North Korea, and the Syrians. How will he arrive at his inevitable meeting with Ahmadinejad? With a Nobel Peace Prize in hand, a timely and formidable trump card.
Translated from French by Helene Brenkman.