Will the real President Obama please stand up?
It was announced today that Barack Obama has become the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner. It is a decision that has shocked the world and led many to question what on earth he has won it for and whether he will even accept it? While statesmen and dignitaries across the world congratulate him on his accolade and wonderful ‘achievements’ (I use the word in its loosest terms), the rest of the world look on and see a Commander in Chief overseeing two wars, crises on the domestic front and the worst international economic crisis ever. But admittedly he didn’t start any of those events himself.
The decision shocked the world including none other than President Obama himself, who was awoken to the news by the White House press secretary. Mr Obama had no early indication he was to receive the award and only found out about it when his press secretary called at 6am, which was just an hour after the decision was announced in Oslo, to break the news.
It must have come as a huge shock to Obama. Firstly, as he did not deserve it and secondly because he was asleep and clearly not expecting to receive the call. Obama being asleep could be construed as his humble nature and not expecting the award but really it was just that he didn’t have any idea he was going to win. If I were ever in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize then I would have been pacing the room waiting for ‘that call’. However, Obama was happily tucked up in bed, probably dreaming of what he can achieve in the next 4 years of his Presidency and maybe 5 years beyond that with re-election. Obama would have been dreaming of bringing the Iraq War to an end and bringing the American troops home, restoring stability to Afghanistan and bringing peace to the Middle East while passing legislation on healthcare reform on the domestic front and restoring the world economy to prosperity with a US led recovery.
In Obama’s dreams, at the end of that distinguished list of achievements, he would have been hailed as one of the greatest statesmen ever to live by stated heads, academics, the media and the American people and maybe even given the nod for a Nobel Peace Prize. I would not have been surprised if on hearing the news of his award, Mr Obama would have awoken somewhat confused and could even have been excused for thinking that he had slept straight through to 2016 when he might actually warrant being considered for the achievement more seriously.
After rubbing his weary eyes and letting the achievement sink in, Mr Obama had to react to the news and in an address at the White House said that he was, “surprised and deeply humbled” by the award. Or that could be code for, ‘what the hell have I done to win this? I’m pretty embarrassed. Maybe I should check what I have won it for?’ From 1901 to 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 90 times to 120 Nobel Laureates – 97 times to individuals and 23 times to organizations. Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho is the only person to have declined it.
To clear up the ambiguity and shock, which came with the decision of who the winner was, the Nobel Committee were good enough to point out why he had won it, which was for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. Note the precise choice of language here. It was for his ‘efforts’ and not his ‘achievements’. This decision is politically motivated and could prove a very clever decision in the long term. Obama has been granted his annual financial bonus at the start of the year before hitting his targets. The Nobel Committee are telling Obama to make sure he stands up and delivers against his promises. End the Bush wars, reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles, bring peace to the Middle East, pacify North Korea and bring some agreement and cohesion on climate change. Any one of these accomplishments could warrant a Nobel Prize but Obama has not completed or even really started out on the road to sorting out many of these issues.
So it is a pat on the back and a well done so far but much more work to do and don’t let us down. Defending the decision to grant the prize to Obama, Nobel Committee head Thorbjoern Jagland said, “It was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve”. Hopefully Obama can live up to the hype, hope and promise of his campaign of ‘Can we do it? Yes we can!’ It seems that the Nobel Committee have been swept up in the hope, rhetoric and promise of change. Remember he has only been in power 8 months and a lot of Americans are beginning to question if they were wrongly swept up in the same furore that brought Obama to power. Obama must have been added to the shortlist of nominees almost within his first two weeks in office, in which time all he had time to do was choose his Presidential desk and change the curtains George and Laura Bush had in the Presidential bedroom.
It is a shame that such a well respected coveted prize has been reduced to a political tool such as the move to pick Obama as winner demonstrated. Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who won the prize in 1983, questioned whether Obama deserved it now. “So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act,” Walesa said.
And as a former winner, Walesas’ comments point out the distinguished company he finds himself in now as a winner of the Peace Prize. But he should not be there yet. Obama is being held in the same esteem as 1979 winner; Mother Theresa who devoted her life to charity and missionary work, Marin Luther King, who won in 1964 and was the leading figure in the civil rights movement and Mikhail Gorbachev who won in 1989 for helping bring the Cold War to an end, a war that could have brought the world to an end through the promise of mutually assure destruction. And then there is Obama, a former Senator only eight months into his Presidency.
Obama is the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize since the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. There were a record 205 nominations for this year’s peace prize. Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Chinese dissident Hu Jia had been among the favourites. Now, if we take Morgan Tsvangirai, he would have been excused for pacing around waiting for a phone call from Oslo while Obama slept well in the White House. Tsvangirai has battled tirelessly against the despotic Zimbabwean regime led by Mugabe. Tsvangirai has been arrested, beaten, threatened with assassination and has kept hope and brought change, something that Obama is yet to achieve. On 11 February 2009, Tsvangirai was sworn in as the President of Zimbabwe. We have to remember that Obama already looks like a Saint (which might come soon at this rate) compared to his predecessor. The change between Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy and Obama’s world outlook has maybe also had an influence on the decision.
So eight months into a so far undistinguished Presidency, this may be a wakeup call for Obama (quite literally in this instance) to stand up and take account and start acting. There is a lot of work to do and I, as well as many others believe Barack Obama could be the man to bring the international community together through multilateralism, end the Afghan and Iraqi wars, bring a peace resolution to the Middle East and lead the world out of the economic quagmire it has found itself in. But he has not done any of that yet. Who knows, if President Obama achieves even just a few of the things on that list, he could well win a second Nobel Peace Prize?