Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, October 9, 2009

President Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

An unexpected honor:
The Nobel Committee announced Friday that the annual peace prize was awarded to Barack Obama, just nine months into his presidency, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

The award cited in particular Mr. Obama’s effort to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal. “He has created a new international climate,” the committee said.

The announcement stunned people from Norway to the White House. “There has been no discussion, nothing at all,” said Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, in a brief early morning telephone interview.
We extend our congratulations to the President and his family.

Already, of course, reaction is flooding in from all quarters. The right wing is being especially harsh and nasty (how typical), but even some progressives are astonished and wondering why the Nobel Committee selected the President for this year's award.

The nation's collective surprise has something to do with popular misconceptions of what the award is. Many people seem to have the impression that the Nobel Peace Prize is a lifetime achievement award. Actually, that's not the case:
Wanted - a peace maker or rights activist engaged in a current conflict whose influence would benefit greatly from winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

That is who Norway's Nobel Committee will choose for 2009 Peace Prize laureate if, as experts expect, it returns closer to Alfred Nobel's notion of peace. Past prizes went to climate campaigners, life-long diplomats and grass-roots economists.
What was Alfred Nobel's notion of peace? His will, which directs that his interest from his estate be apportioned five ways to recognize humankind's accomplishments, offers a fairly descriptive definition. part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.
In the Nobel Committee's judgment, it is President Obama who has done "the most or the best work" this past year to build the kind of peace that Alfred Nobel wanted the world to be able to enjoy.

Since becoming President, Obama has reached out to defuse tensions between peoples, urge global cooperation, and lay the groundwork for nuclear disarmament. He is not being recognized for any particular breakthrough, but rather for courageously beginning a journey towards the most difficult, yet just, of ideals: harmony between all of humankind.

This Daily Kos diary specifically lists some of the steps Obama has taken since taking office last January. Obviously, his work is not done. The prize is meant to affirm the importance of what he has started, not celebrate a lifetime of accomplishments.
Interviewed later in the Nobel Committee’s wood-paneled meeting room, surrounded by photographs of past winners, Mr. Jagland brushed aside concerns expressed by some critics that Mr. Obama remains untested.

“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” Mr. Jagland said. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”

He compared the selection of Mr. Obama with the award in 1971 to the then West German Chancellor Willy Brandt for his “Ostpolitik” policy of reconciliation with communist eastern Europe.

“Brandt hadn’t achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” said Mr. Jagland. “The same thing is true of the prize to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, for launching perestroika. One can say that Barack Obama is trying to change the world, just as those two personalities changed Europe.”
Even so, President Obama remarked this morning that he felt he did not deserve the award, but would nonetheless accept it as a call to action.


Blogger Matt said...

The Prize isn't something they give to people just for signing treaties or working in refugee camps. It's not just for those who commit to the green movement or microfinance. At the its core, Alfred Nobel set it up so that every year a world intent on destroying itself would stop to honor one person or group trying to make the world better, safer, and more human. It isn't always meant to honor those who have succeeded; it's to remind us that the sheer effort, the desire, the longing to see this world become something greater, is something we all can aspire to. There can't be a prize for every do-gooder or for life saved. But once a year I am happy to see a prize given to one person or group who generally tries to make this place a little nicer to live in.

President Obama has not ended wars, world hunger, or extreme poverty. But he has reminded the world what it means to be a world. He has reinvigorated the idea of a global community. He has opened his mind, his heart, and his Office to the prospect of new ideas and building a new future where everyone has an equal stake. He has recommitted his country -- our country -- to the idea that we are not rulers of the world, but rather humble citizens, yearning to be leaders. At what other point in history has the world, as divided as it still is, and as dangerous as it still is, been so open to working together? This is due to the articulate vision of one man who just five years ago was only a state senator in Springfield, Illinois. Has he done anything concrete and spectacular, for which we have now and always will a photo or video to remind us what the prize was for? No. But a man going from being an unknown black American to not merely the President of the United States, but also an inspiration to all the world and the audible voice for the voices that have been hiding or silenced in every person's heart, a man taking that voice to inspire, encourage, mobilize, and empower millions, and then to order the closure of secret prisons, to order the end of torture, to call for real nuclear non-proliferation, to broker compromises, to reinforce international organizations, and to challenge us all to follow his suit in serving a purpose higher than ourselves, a man helping not just Americans but the world to remember the long-forgotten promise of our revolution, that we are free, that we are equal, that we have inalienable rights, and that we can find peace and prosperity for everyone, a man doing all that deserves some small token of recognition. No, he has not brought about world peace in our time. But he has reminded us not only that we can have it, why we want it, and what it is.

This Prize is not saying he has done great, tangible things for the world. It is saying as he goes forward in his efforts to accomplish all the things we hope for, we, the world, are with him, that we the world believe in and share his dream. This Prize is the world's way of affirming the movement he has called for and the positive changes he has started to work for. But most importantly, it's the world's way of saying, "Thank you, we needed to believe again."

No, I don't think it was too soon. If it was any later, he might have actually accomplished a tangible success for which he'd receive the Prize and the world would remember that one thing, not the feeling they've lost and re-found. I hope he does achieve many great victories for the world's cause of peace in its broadest form. But for now, I'm content honoring a man who gave us as a world life again. It truly is an accomplishment beyond compare. And, as an American, and as a global citizen, I am proud today.

The words of Ted Kennedy have never meant more than they do today: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

October 9, 2009 11:09 PM  

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