Nobel Prize for good intentions
President Barack Obama, at least, struck an appropriately modest tone when reacting to the news Friday that he had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
“I do not feel I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize,” he said. He also said he didn’t view the prize as “a recognition of my own accomplishments” but of the goals he hopes to achieve.
Laudable as those goals may be, they aren’t actual accomplishments on the world stage. But that didn’t stop the Nobel Peace Prize committee. One member gushed that Obama has brought “hope for a better future” to the entire world. And the Norwegian Prime Minister said Obama deserved the award because he “has the power to contribute to peace.”
Well, sure. But nearly every world leader and billions of civilians have the power to contribute to peace.
What should we expect from a Nobel committee that in the past couple decades has given the peace prize to the likes of the late Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian leader who sanctioned repeated terrorist attacks on Israel.
The Nobel Peace prize has also gone to some very deserving people over the years, such as Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa, who unquestionably did much for the cause of freedom and peace.
This year, the Nobel committee overlooked nominees who have actually fought for peace and human rights in places like China, Cuba and Afghanistan to select Obama.
This isn’t meant as a criticism of our president. With barely eight months in office, he hasn’t had time to have much effect on world peace. Although he has attempted to take a different tack than his predecessor diplomatically — seeking more negotiations with Iran, North Korea and even Russia on nuclear missiles, and has reached out more to Muslim nations — his efforts have borne little fruit to date.
There is no question that Barack Obama’s election was historic. As the first black president of the most powerful nation on Earth, he has the potential to change racial politics in this country and around the world. He already is an inspiration to young black people in this country, particularly the disenfranchised young black male. He can help others realize that they, too, can be leaders, regardless of their skin color and ethnic background.
If the Nobel committee had simply offered recognition of those facts and issued some special award to Obama for them, we would have no problem.
But potential is not accomplishment. There are billions of people with good intentions. The Nobel committee should have waited until Obama has completed his presidency to assess his peace credentials, or at least waited until he had achieved some concrete peace objective before selecting him for this important prize.