I really don’t see how Barack Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Less than nine months in, his administration has done very little to actually make our world a more peaceful place. Obama has sent more troops to Afghanistan and may in fact send more, thus escalating rather than withdrawing from the war. He is keeping to a timeline for withdrawing from Iraq that was actually set before he became president. On his first day in office he declared that he will close the Guantanamo prison, but has not yet figured out how to actually make that happen. He has done little to intervene in a right-wing coup that has recently happen in Honduras. He said very little when Iranian protesters were fighting against their tyrant government, being beaten, jailed, and even killed. He also continued the bank bailouts, helping the very institutions that have inflicted direct harm and pain upon thousands, even millions of Americans. This list of actions and policies do not necessarily translate into a horrible presidency. Obama is simply continuing the American status quo. But the Nobel Peace Prize is about extraordinary accomplishments; about courageously acting against the status quo in the hopes of creating a more peaceful world. The Nobel hype simply doesn’t match the concrete reality.
The progressive organization True Majority sent out an email today (October 9th) via its listserv. It highlighted True Majority’s support for the award. Here are their reasons as to why Obama deserves it:
1) Obama de-escalated the conflict with Russia by ending Bush’s needless missile defense programs;
2) After years of bluster and military threats from Bush, Obama successfully re-reopened dialogue with Iran, including their nuclear program;
3) In Egypt and Eastern Europe, where Bush’s government was a symbol of tyranny and empire, Obama electrified young people and reformers while pointing the way to a nuclear-free future;
4) And where Bush wanted to begin a new arms race, Obama has begun to bring sanity to the military budget by ending programs like the F-22 and missile defense.
The majority of these reasons are more about disagreeing with George W. Bush’s hawkish, imperialist policies rather than applauding any concrete, peaceful, or anti-imperialist policies of Barack Obama. I also don’t see how “electrifying” populations is a legitimate criteria for the prize. Obamania was months ago; the honeymoon is over. In terms of nuclear de-escalation, that’s great. But many political leaders have paid such lip service while few if any have delivered. And the last reason just doesn’t hold up. The United States of America continues to have the largest military budget in the entire world. It’s not even close: the U.S. accounts for 48% of the world’s total military spending and spends more than the next 45 countries combined.1 The Obama administration has not come close to denting these figures.
I admit that the election of Obama has definitely shifted the political discourse in the country. It’s now okay to discuss left-of-center ideas and policies without worrying about right-wing “anti-American” sneers. That accounts for the “breath of fresh air” vibe since last November. But other than that, no real change has yet occurred. People’s immediate, everyday lives are not all that different from the Bush years. And that’s just in the U.S. let alone the rest of the world.
I also recognize and appreciate that Obama has engaged in multilateral diplomacy. But isn’t such diplomacy to be expected in our age of democratic governance? I didn’t know that multilateral talk was something extraordinary. If it is, then most elected leaders of the free world deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.
In analyzing the evidence, it seems that Obama was given the award for some type of disingenuous reason. At best, I see it as an attempt on the part of the Nobel committee to push Obama toward more peacemaking and to once again comment on the Bush years. Both intentions may seem fine. But I believe that one possible negative consequence of this award is that people will say, Oh, see, Obama is perfect and we (the people) don’t have to push him… he’ll take care of it all on his own. That type of thinking just doesn’t work given the fact that every special interest group pushes every president in a million different ways, and the real wants and needs of everyday people are left out of the discussion. We need to stop patting Obama on the back for something he has not yet accomplished and start directly pressuring his entire administration toward more peaceful ways. That’s the whole point of democracy.