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Jesse Berney

Jesse Berney

Posted: October 9, 2009 02:58 PM

He Should Have Turned It Down

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I support Barack Obama. I want him to achieve great things here at home and around the world. I want him to have a Rushmore-worthy presidency. I want him to be so great that there's talk of repealing the 22nd Amendment. I want his birthday to become a national holiday because he is so universally loved for his accomplishments.

But Barack Obama's presidency is 17 days younger than my daughter, and she just figured out how to put Cheerios into her mouth. The Norwegian Nobel Committee made a grave mistake by awarding him a Nobel Peace Prize.

The Peace Prize should be more than simply a symbolic gesture of hope for the future. It should be a reward for extraordinary accomplishment and real-world results. It should be the culmination of a career devoted to the cause of building a better world.

During his eight-year presidency, President Clinton ended ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, put Northern Ireland on the path to peace, made significant gains toward peace in the Middle East, and expanded international trade. In the decade since he left the White House, he has continued his transformative work, raising billions of dollars and fostering innovative solutions to intractable problems like climate change, poverty, and disease through the Clinton Global Initiative.

Clinton's work has made an enormous, direct difference in the lives of the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the displaced. He has left no tool untapped in the betterment of his fellow man: diplomacy, economic opportunity, scientific development -- even the judicious use of military force.

Barack Obama has the potential to match and even exceed President Clinton's accomplishments, but it would be impossible for him to come anywhere close after just nine months in the White House.

The impulse that led the Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to Obama was a positive one. They recognized his ardent desire to turn the page on eight years of America-first triumphalism that alienated our allies. They trust that President Obama will deliver on his campaign promise of a new American engagement and are impressed with his first steps on the world stage.

But nine months! No president -- save one with superpowers -- could possibly do enough to earn the ultimate prize in world affairs in such a short time.

The right-wing attacks on the Nobel Committee, immediate and ferocious, are as misguided as they are politically motivated. They continue to assert that America should somehow be ashamed of efforts to promote peace. They equate diplomacy with weakness and believe that strength comes only from the barrel of a gun.

But just because they're wrong doesn't mean that Barack Obama deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. And while he has done his best to accept the honor with humility, he should have gone further and declined to accept it.

He should have come out with a list of people (beginning with President Clinton) who have already done enough to win the Prize, and said that he hoped to achieve enough during his lifetime that the Nobel Committee will reconsider him many years from now.

I say he should have turned it down because I'm such a big supporter of his presidency. Imagine if he had strode up the podium and declared that he could not in good conscience accept the award, but that he was inspired to redouble his efforts to use America's resources to spread peace. It would have been the defining moment of the first year of his presidency.

I believe Barack Obama can fulfill his promise to draw inspiration from the award as a call to action. But I wish instead he had declined to accept it, and promised to work fiercely to earn one down the road.

(But at least they didn't give Kissinger another one.)

Follow Jesse Berney on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jesseberney