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

Obama's Nobel: Paris and Berlin

HEIDELBERG -- The different national responses to the Nobel award shed some light on what may be the reaction when it dawns on people that Obama is not the long awaited American messiah. The French reaction was the classic Gallic shrug -- that expressive gesture that conveys indifference, bemusement, resignation or, occasionally, "that's nice but who cares." The Germans, by contrast, see a confirmation that Obama indeed could be the incarnation of all the American virtues. Their already high hopes have been further uplifted.

Obviously, the inevitable letdown will be more pronounced in Germany than in France. In both countries, there remains a tendency to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. An example from Paris. Back in June, there was a high profile meeting that featured four Middle East experts. They were nearly unanimous in expecting the White House to press the Israelis very hard and in predicting success for the effort. In October, one of the speakers explained the manifest failure in terms of Obama's 'capture' by the Washington culture. So much for ingrained French skepticism.

My correspondence with the Middle East suggests that there is less disillusionment there for the simple reason that they were far less inclined to take Obama at his rhetorical word. Belief in messiahs may be universal; but the annointing in any particular one is culturally determined.

As to the Norwegian Nobel committee's thinking, one interpretation is that it was equal parts Kant and Machiavelli. That is to say, a conviction that peace through reasoned preference for enlightened self-interest along with an attempt to put pressure on Obama to live up to his high-flown words. Hope in Barack Obama springs eternal. Maybe, we'll also get an end to wholesale electronic surveillance.