THE BLOG
12/13/2009 03:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

No Comparison Between King's Nobel Prize Moment and Obama's

For those who own mementos from the 2009 presidential inauguration such as key rings, bumper stickers and buttons depicting the images of Martin Luther King and Barack Obama as a way to illustrate that the civil right icon's "dream" has been fulfilled, now would be the appropriate time to discard them into the ash pile of irrelevance.

Any doubt you may have had was put to rest by the president himself. Last Thursday, President Barack Obama became the third African-American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, joining King and Ralph Bunche. Here is where the similarities end.

Bunche was awarded the prize in 1950 for his successful mediation of a series of cease fire agreements between the new nation of Israel and four Arab neighbors -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. King was awarded the prize in 1964 for his commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience in response to often-violent Jim Crow segregation.

Obama's award was a derivative prize. Like the highly speculative financial instruments that were used to invest in high-risk mortgage securities, the Nobel committee placed a side bet on what they believe Obama could do at some future date, more so than what he has actually accomplished.

The irony was lost on no one, including the president, that he was receiving a prize for peace days after escalating the conflict in Afghanistan.

The opening remarks offered by King in 1964 and the president in 2009 reveal the stark difference in their respective missions.

King began his remarks by stating:

"I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement, which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice."

To his credit, the president wasted little time in his remarks acknowledging what most were already thinking:

"And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight."

Sadly, I found the president's speech more reminiscent of George W. Bush than King. Though more eloquent and self-effacing than his predecessor, the macho tone of the speech was more neocon than deserving of a peace prize.

Obama was correct to draw a distinction between leading a civil rights movement and being commander in chief of the most powerful armed force in world history.

I also agree with Obama's Niebuhrian observation: "For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies." But it is the type of non-sequitur that I would expect from Bush 43. King was not going against Hitler and neither is Obama.

If anything, the president accepts an award for peace slightly more than a week after committing troops that will spill blood and treasure most likely long after the 2011 withdrawal date that he has placed in the psyche of the American people.

Read in its full context, the president's Nobel address was not enough of a departure from the previous eight years, which paradoxically was a large reason for his receiving the award.

For all the effort the president placed on the differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam when he announced an additional 30,000 troop surge last week, there remain a few haunting similarities that cannot be ignored.

Like Vietnam, we are in a region of the world that remains doubtful the U.S. understands.

Like Vietnam, we are backing a central government that does not necessarily have the backing of its own people.

Like Vietnam, the U.S. is committing troops where there is already a historical precedent for disaster.

Though I thought the president gave a wonderful realpolitik address, it was far from anything that might draw comparisons to King, who remains, in my opinion, the moral voice of our nation. And it is unlikely that role will be usurped anytime soon.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor, a syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him byron@byronspeaks.com or visit his Web site: byronspeaks.com.