More Nobel perspective

Posted on October 12, 2009


Is it flogging a dead horse? Perhaps. But a few columnists caught my attention when analyzing Barack Obama’s undeserved Nobel Peace Prize. Ross Douthat of the New York Times says Obama missed an opportunity:

Here was an opportunity to cut himself free, in a stroke, from the baggage that’s weighed his presidency down — the implausible expectations, the utopian dreams, the messianic hoo-ha.

Here was a place to draw a clean line between himself and all the overzealous Obamaphiles, at home and abroad, who poured their post-Christian, post-Marxist yearnings into the vessel of his 2008 campaign.

Here was a chance to establish himself, definitively, as an American president — too self-confident to accept an unearned accolade, and too instinctively democratic to go along with European humbug.

He didn’t take it. Instead, he took the Nobel Peace Prize.

Big mistake

…In any case, it will be far more offensive when Obama takes the stage in Oslo this November instead of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s heroic opposition leader; or Thich Quang Do, the Buddhist monk and critic of Vietnam’s authoritarian regime; or Rebiya Kadeer, exiled from China for her labors on behalf of the oppressed Uighur minority; or anyone who has courted death this year protesting for democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And there’s the ever-snarky and always interesting Christopher Hitchens, who also spoke on MSNBC about his views:

In this roseate conception, we have Barack Obama as Tom Cruise, praised and promoted for nipping crime in the bud by arresting people before they actually commit any offense. (A whole new slogan on which to run: “Tough on pre-crime”!)We thus find ourselves in a rather peculiar universe where good intentions are rewarded before they have undergone the strenuous metamorphosis of being translated into good deeds, or hard facts. And it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid entertaining the suspicion that there is something explicitly political in the underlying process of Nobelista decision making. I do not think that I am shying at shadows here, either. Especially of late, the literature awards, on which I am more qualified to pronounce, have reflected the same or a similar mentality. The choices of an Italian anarchist, an Austrian Stalinist, a Portuguese Stalinist, and the hysterical anti–American Harold Pinter are or should be fresh in our minds, and we might remember that this is a Nobel committee that let Vladimir Nabokov and Jorge Luis Borges go to their graves -unrecognized.

…But the task of the chief executive of the United States is more complicated than manifesting a vague and general sympathy for the oppressed. It is, in the last resort, to be a commander in chief, and to consult closely with an elected Congress on the grave matters of war and peace and security. If he manages to get any of this right—if, for a pregnant instance, he manages to negotiate a nonviolent transition to an Iran that has nuclear power but not nuclear weapons (and that perhaps allows its own people to intervene in their own internal affairs)—then he will have done very well, and will deserve much more than a medal and a large check. He is, however, unlikely even to get a hearing on these serious questions without the believable threat of American power and force, economic and diplomatic as well as military. Something in the mental universe of the Nobel committee is palpably hostile to the facts that underpin that consideration.

A case can be made that it isn’t good for sitting presidents to get their recognition and their praise in advance of their actual attainments.

I don’t derive any pleasure in pointing out the obvious – in fact, I’d rather just leave it alone and let people’s common sense be their guide. But Obama’s Nobel is already being used to further inflate his caricature of greatness and to denigrate his critics and opponents, making it more necessary to point out the absurdity of his win in the first place.

It will be interesting to see what kind of speech he gives when accepting the award in December. If it’s humble and embarrassed like his first initial public reaction, my reaction will be positive. But if he uses it as a global stage to loudly trumpet himself and his nascent administration (still glaringly lacking in accomplishment) then he will be cemented as a empty-suited narcissist on a worldwide scale. The path he takes is up to him, and I hope he takes the right one.

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