January: The Presidency. October: The Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Committee has shocked the international community today with the announcement of the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize – US President Barack Obama.

Nine months into his role, this announcement has led to mixed reviews from the press and the general public.

The Committee stated that this honour would go to President Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international dipomacy and cooperation between peoples.” He has pushed for a new world order in which nuclear disarmament, environmental safety and the strengthening of international bodies are at the core.

His messages of hope and victory have also furthered his candidacy. The Committee added: “only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.

“His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population. We would like to support what he is trying to achieve” as he has “created a new climate in international politics.”

“One of the first things he did was to go to Cairo to try to reach out to the Muslim world, then to restart the Mideast negotiations and then he reached out to the rest of the world through international institutions.

The Committee expressed support of Obama’s achievements to date, and the steps he is taking to create a more stable world. They hope that this honour will aid him in this process.

Their statements may be true – Obama has instilled in a lot of us a certain faith in our institutions and the practice of politics. He has taken on some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. He has brought the domestic health-care debate to front and centre; injected economic stimuli and recovery packages into the market, as well as announced troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2010 within 100 days of taking office.

President Obama has forged new alliances and strengthened relationships between the US governments and its allies; he has improved the image of the US in the international arena and is pushing for long-term and peaceful solutions to certain conflicts in the Middle East. Add to that an easygoing and approachable personality and a gift for oratory and lateral thinking. There is little doubt that he has captivated the ‘hearts and minds’ of the general public.

Criticisms of this decision come not from pessimists and disbelievers in Obama’s potential as such, but rather from those who believe in the tradition of the Peace Prize.

Obama will not be the first US President to be awarded this honour – previous recipients include Presidents Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and Jimmy Carter in 2002. Former Vice-President Al Gore was honoured in 2007 for his work to control environmental damage.

President Obama will receive a gold medal, a diploma and the equivalent of $1.4 million. The ceremony is scheduled for 10 December.

Nine months into his first term as president, what has Barack Obama managed to achieve that would warrant such an accolade? There are as yet, no foreign policy triumphs to speak of; nor are there leaps and bounds in economics and finance; a solution to peace in the Middle East has not been reached, nor indeed for any other region of the world.

There may be indications that progress is being made on these fronts, but critics have argued that this progress is hardly the stuff of Nobel Peace Prize candidacy.

Former winner Mikhail Gorbachev was honoured for his efforts to open up the Soviet Union, and has commented on this year’s winner: “I am happy. What Obama did during his presidency is a big signal, he gave hope. In these hard times, people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported.”

Thus far, no major world leaders have made statements to the press. The public have been vocal, however. The Committee has a tradition of awarding tangible results and achievements in politics – this announcement would seem to be in direct contrast to that, prompting many to question the validity of the Nobel Prizes at all.

President Obama’s progress, while positive, is to be expected from a world leader. These are steps on several fronts, to be sure, and he has presented himself to the world as a man capable of taking on the mess left by his predecessor. Are we so used to the chaos wreaked by the former president that we will go so far as to awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a man who has, at least thus far, merely been doing his job?

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2 thoughts on “January: The Presidency. October: The Nobel Peace Prize

  1. Fair question and I agree with your point of view, entirely. Perhaps the world needs to reassure itself that we’ve all pinned our hopes on the right person. Maybe Pygmalion at play again?

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  2. The world is in such a bad state now, that we are ready to applaud and congratulate a man who has only given us a dream and a vision so far. I’m waiting to see some solid work, and concrete results of the hard work before I am completely convinced. Too much too soon, I think.

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