President Barack Obama of the United States of America, Nobel Laureate. It has a nice ring to it. Now get ready for the real noise. There will be a cacophony from both the right and the left. Many will say he doesn't deserve it. Just as many will laud the choice; see it as some kind of justification for his election. Neither will be right, nor wrong.
There is no list of particular achievements that one has to match up against to be awarded the Prize. It's less stringent, say, than being named the MVP of Major League Baseball. Obama has hit no home runs, his RBI total is zero so far, and he's even struggling with his on base percentage. But the season isn't over in Washington and he'll have a lot more at bats, so maybe he is MVP material. Just being the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, however, will get him no small amount of consideration.
As sitting American Presidents go, he joins Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt as prize winners. Former President Jimmy Carter is a Nobel Laureate, as is 'almost' President Al Gore. From that list alone you can take away what you will about the Nobel Prize in general. People recognized globally for accomplishing or trying to accomplish something that affects not only the citizens of the United States but citizens of the world.
That is something that is often missed by us Americans. We talk endlessly about the world economy but don't really understand how what happens in Japan can affect the price of something in Toledo. Or how the Euro going up can drive the amount you can buy at Wal-Mart down in Encino. We're a big country of 300 million people compiled of at least one of every ethnic, racial, political, social and religious group on earth, and yet I have friends and neighbors who have never been more than 200 miles from where they live, ever. And have never talked to someone who doesn't look and think exactly like them. We are a parochial people and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact in some ways there is something marvelous about it. However, like it or not, we are part of the larger fabric of the world and we all need to understand it, embrace it, and learn to work within that global frame work. Giving Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize just may help. It will remind us that the rest of the world is watching, does care, and that we share a responsibility beyond our borders.
I spent a good deal of my childhood outside the United States, in non-military settings. So there was no cocoon of Americanism, no PX, no English speaking school. Let me tell you, nothing will test your love of country more than trying to explain U.S. foreign policy in the Congo to a group of African schoolmates in French when you're ten years old. I think I knew who Patrice Labumba was before Richard Nixon. When you're being chased down a boulevard in Ankara Turkey by a mob of screaming anti-American protesters simply because you are American, you do find yourself developing a critical eye for U.S. foibles abroad. So take my word for it, the fact that in large measure Barack Obama won the Nobel Prize because the world outside our own borders hopes, wants, and prays for his success internationally is a good thing, a very good thing.
Now the problem is, he has to do it. Whatever 'it' is. Obama is not the first Nobel Laureate to get the prize on promise. I interviewed Lech Walesa while he was in hiding in the basement of a Catholic Church in Poland soon after he lead the 'revolt' at the Gdansk shipyards. It was shortly before he won his Peace Prize. I then interviewed him years later when he had turned into an overweight bureaucrat. I asked him if he thought he had accomplished what he set out to do, had lived up to the promise of those early days. I'm still waiting for the answer.
For many Americans the election of Barack Obama was a welcome relief from the Bush years. Turns out we weren't the only ones who were relieved. The rest of the world is too. Now we'll find out if he's the MVP or not.