Nobel Befuddlement: Why Obama Doesn’t Deserve It

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. ((The Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.)) 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.

Jason Del Gandio is author of Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists (New Society, 2008) and an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Public Advocacy at Temple University in Philadelphia. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Jason, or visit Jason's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Obstreperous said on October 10th, 2009 at 9:57am #

    Using the logic applied above by “truc Majority” for the nomination, the the Pentagon deserves the award. The F-22 cancellation was proposed by the Pentagon and supported by the President because the F-35 was deemed a better use of the funds. The Poland missle plan was scrapped because we can provide similar missle defense coverage with ship-based systems. The Iran talks…more time-wasting while Iran continues to build their capabilities.

    That’s really some set of accomplishments.

  2. B99 said on October 10th, 2009 at 10:27am #

    Obstrep – The sooner Iran has nukes the better.

  3. RH2 said on October 10th, 2009 at 12:16pm #

    There is nothing new about Obama. The newness here is rather the selective behavior of the Nobel theatre in Oslo. It seems that the Vikings over there are sensitive to distortive rhetoric. Anyhow, do not be distressed by this Oslo Syndrome. There are more serious disorders in the world to think seriously about.

  4. Obstreperous said on October 10th, 2009 at 2:49pm #

    Yep, then the world can be destroyed and we won’t have to worry about all of this.

  5. Don Hawkins said on October 10th, 2009 at 4:46pm #

    The GOP is using President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize as a fundraising tool, by mocking the award in a send-money letter to Republicans.

    But Republican National Committee head Michael Steele is bristling with outrage, saying in a letter that Obama won the prize “for awesomeness.”

    It shows “how meaningless a once honorable and respected award has become,” he wrote, asking for contributions of $25 to $1,000 for the RNC. Daily news

    I don’t think Capitalism is the only thing that is crazy in the first part of the twenty first century. The next 6 months will not be boring to say the least. So far when looking at a small number of people who control the bank’s, media our thoughts, business and policy they seem to think in only one dimension and as we know the Earth resides in three dimensions: height, width, and depth and very sure two more and maybe more than that. It looks like with the three right in front of us these few leave out width, and depth and very sure on the depth. Yes just the next six months as it seems among the few war is the answer more troops and bomb bomb Iran. We can’t fight war’s and even think about slowing the biggest problem, problems the human race and all other life forms face will not work. It is strange to see this one dimensional World without reason, imagination, knowledge what the system has become. I don’t think these few have the slightest clue what they are doing and what will become of them and all of us not a clue. I guess they think they are being clever cap and trade is one example of that. Health care is going to be a watered down bill that changes little but is not a human race ending event a warming World is. There are another few who do know what all three dimensions are and a few more. Some very sure are on the Nobel committee and are trying there best face the problem, problems. We are out of time to start try and in Copenhagen the few must know that the climte bill in the States is nothing more than an illusion and doesn’t even start until 2012 that is if it could pass in the Senate contributions of $25 to $1,000 for the RNC a one dimensional World without reason, imagination, knowledge what the system has become. I know the few who do understand the Earth resides in three dimensions will not stay quiet and will it do any good well it hasn’t worked so far but they havn’t given up just yet. First Copenhagen then the climate bill here in the States and so far the art of illusion will be taken to new heights the one dimension the clueless seem to understand and so it goes on the third one from the Sun in spacetime one of those other dimensions. We must start now we will probably not get a second chance. Obama even said that when he accepted the peace prize irreversible, catastrophic changes then of course we heard and now a word from our sponsor call call now a one dimensional World without reason, imagination, knowledge what the system has become knowing full well the system now is quite literally, crazy. Will Obama go to Oslo naked so far it seems so and for those of us who know very sure we will watch with great interest in more way’s than one and of course he could Obama make everything as simple as possible using knowledge the real thing reason, imagination and that little speech that so far has never been given but not simpler.

  6. Don Hawkins said on October 10th, 2009 at 5:05pm #

    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. And congress and the people who control the bank’s the media our thoughts and the policy the man behind the curtain. Still time the clock is running and think of this as kind of a war calm at peace tomorrow is only a day away and the day before yesterday would have been better in spacetime.

  7. Luis Cayetano said on October 10th, 2009 at 7:10pm #

    “He said very little when Iranian protesters were fighting against their tyrant government, being beaten, jailed, and even killed.”

    Yawn. You sound like a GOP hack. Firstly, what good would it have done to have “said” anything? Spouting platitudes is something that powerful leaders are great at; it doesn’t mean such pronouncements have any moral significance. Secondly, one feels almost thankful that he exercised a degree of restraint when criticising the Iranian government; his administration is currently supporting a far more appalling regime in Colombia. And he has continued the long history of American complicity in Israel’s crimes. Looking at one’s own crimes and addressing themis what matters; denouncing the crimes of official enemies before doing that is utterly devoid of moral content.

  8. ELP said on October 11th, 2009 at 4:05am #

    “The F-22 cancellation was proposed by the Pentagon and supported by the President because the F-35 was deemed a better use of the funds. ”

    Except with only 2 percent of the flight testing done on the F-35 and serious delay to the flight test program and this early in testing, no known cost, along with proposals to buy less of the F-35 (hello procurement death spiral) there isn’t a shred of proof for any claim that the F-35 is somehow more cost effective. It is way too early to know.

  9. Nasir Khan said on October 11th, 2009 at 6:47am #

    Peace prize or war prize to Obama?

    According to the normal practice the Nobel Peace Prize is to be
    awarded to someone who has contributed to the cause of peace. In
    President Obama’s case, we see no such evidence. On the contrary,
    since taking office he has escalated and extended the war of
    aggression in Afghanistan which his predecessor Bush had started.

    American pilotless drones target Pakistani territory and kill people
    there with impunity. The ever-increasing death-toll of Afghans and
    Pakistanis) at the hands of US-led occupation forces shows the reality of this president’s policies. Obama is following the criminal war policies of his immediate predecessor. From Gitmo to Iraq and to the Occupied Territories of the Palestinians his promises have been
    futile; he has backed down on each of his policy statements he had
    tossed around.

    Except for his empty rhetoric, Obama has produced no concrete results; neither has he shown any consistent and steadfast line of action to pursue the goals for which people around the world had hoped for. His nuclear arms initiative is praiseworthy, but his warmongering does not entitle him to the peace prize. I suggest that this award should be called War Prize to President Obama. Those in the Nobel Committee who have chosen him for the award have made a joke of the term ‘peace’ once again.

  10. rosemarie jackowski said on October 11th, 2009 at 11:59am #

    Weird times we are living in. It could be worse. They could have given the award to Obama AND super capitalist Oprah.

    And about all of those real people of peace who do deserve an award, all I can say is, sometimes no bad deed goes unrewarded and no good deed goes unpunished.

  11. kris said on October 12th, 2009 at 5:21am #

    Just wanted to contribute a little note from Norway: There are many here who think this award now have lost all credibility… Atleast when who helms it is Thorbjørn Jagland which by many people are considered as having no antennas… I wouldn’t put much weight on this award unless the people chairing it are switched with someone a bit less naive.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain said on October 12th, 2009 at 8:30pm #

    The ‘House Negro’, Obama is a gigantic confidence-trick by the US ruling elite, and the Norwegians are obviously in on the act. The Western elites are far more closely aligned than conventional agit-prop would have it. Obama’s task is to continue the perennial work of the US Empire, to dominate the planet to the benefit of Western business elites. The Norwegians, being part of the Western Atlanticist apparatus, that has it death-squad, NATO, terrorising Afghanistan, welcoming fresh psychopaths like Georgia’s Saakashvilli and encircling Russia and China, can be relied on to play their part. Obama is George Bush without the surly arrogance, with a smiling but utterly fraudulent facade. In the real world he maintains renditions, torture is forgiven (‘We must look forward’), Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua are threatened, the blockade of Cuba continues, Afghanistan is to be further devastated, Iran is threatened and billions spent there on subversion, culminating in yet another fake ‘colour revolution’ orchestrated in Washington and Tel Aviv, Gaza is obliterated while Obama keeps his Zionazi owned eloquent mouth shut, Obama travels to Africa and lectures the Africans on their sole responsibility for their travails, exonerating the colonialist west, etc.
    Obama is a total fraud, A Zionist ‘asset’ about which they bragged, as they love doing, on the eve of his accession. He will only get worse in his service to power. If he changed one iota, if he did anything for the dopes he roped with his lies about ‘Hope’, you can bet a ‘crazed lone gunman’ would terminate his services to power ‘with extreme prejudice’, to be succeeded by Joe ‘I’m a Zionist’ Biden.

  13. Living in USA makes us Fat said on October 12th, 2009 at 8:57pm #


    In the morning of this Friday 9, the world woke up to the news that “the good Obama” of the riddle — as explained by Bolivarian President Hugo Chavez Frias at the United Nations — had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I do not always agree with the positions of that institution but I must admit that, at this moment it was, in my view, a positive action. It compensates the setback sustained by Obama in Copenhagen when Rio de Janeiro, and not Chicago, was chosen as the venue of the 2016 Olympics, a choice that elicited heated attacks from his right-wing adversaries.

    Many will feel that he has yet to earn the right to receive such an award. Rather than a prize to the President of the United States, we choose to see that decision as a criticism of the genocidal policy pursued by more than a few presidents of that country who took that nation to the crossroads where it is today. That is, as a call for peace and for the pursuit of solutions conducive to the survival of the species.

    Fidel Castro Ruz
    October 9, 2009
    6:11 PM

  14. Living in USA makes us Fat said on October 12th, 2009 at 9:28pm #


    In order to conduct an effective struggle against the wars on behalf of Israel, it is first necessary to understand the causes of war, and this is only possible if we grasp the class interests behind wars. Lenin explained long ago that capitalism means war. In the present epoch of capitalist decline this is truer than when it was first written. The global crisis of capitalism expresses itself as general instability – economic, political and military. This is the starting point for Marxists, and must be understood by all class-conscious workers and youth. Imperialist war is the continuation and sharpening of the predatory politics of the bourgeoisie. The struggle of the proletariat against war is the continuation and sharpening of its class struggle. The beginning of war alters the situation and partially the means of struggle between the classes, but not the aim and basic course.

    Trotsky described the outbreak of WWI in his autobiography My Life:

    “Buchanan, the former British ambassador to St. Petersburg, speaks with exaltation in his memoirs of ‘those wonderful early August days’ when ‘Russia seemed to have been completely transformed.’ There is similar exaltation in the memoirs of other statesmen, although they may not embody the self-satisfied fatuity of the ruling classes with the completeness of Buchanan. All the European capitals were having equally ‘wonderful’ days in August. They were all entirely ‘transformed’ for the business of mutual extermination…

    “…The people whose lives, day in and day out, pass in a monotony of hopelessness are many; they are the mainstay of modern society. The alarm of mobilization breaks into their lives like a promise; the familiar and long-hated is overthrown, and the new and unusual reigns in its place. Changes still more incredible are in store for them in the future. For better or worse? For the better, of course what can seem worse to [the average worker] than ‘normal’ conditions?

    “I strode along the main streets of the familiar Vienna and watched a most amazing crowd fill the fashionable Ring, a crowd in which hopes had been awakened. But wasn’t a small part of these hopes already being realized? Would it have been possible at any other time for porters, laundresses, shoemakers, apprentices and youngsters from the suburbs to feel themselves masters of the situation in the Ring? War affects everybody, and those who are oppressed and deceived by life consequently feel that they are on an equal footing with the rich and powerful. It may seem a paradox, but in the moods of the Viennese crowd that was demonstrating the glory of the Hapsburg arms I detected something familiar to me from the October days of 1905, in St. Petersburg. No wonder that in history war has often been the mother of revolution.

    “…Like revolution, war forces life, from top to bottom, away from the beaten track. But revolution directs its blows against the established power. War, on the contrary, at first strengthens the state power which, in the chaos engendered by war, appears to be the only firm support and then undermines it…”

    To approach war from a purely sentimental or pacifist standpoint is a futile exercise. It would be like a doctor who, instead of providing an accurate diagnosis and appropriate medicine, limited himself to weeping tears over the patient’s symptoms. The patient may be grateful for this display of sympathy, but will not derive much benefit from it. Wars cannot be prevented by the United Nations or by pacifist appeals for peace. War can only be prevented by mass action and by the revolutionary struggle against imperialism and capitalism.

    As Trotsky explained about imperialist war at the outbreak of WWI:

    “The forces of production which capitalism has evolved have outgrown the limits of nation and state. The national state, the present political form, is too narrow for the exploitation of these productive forces. The natural tendency of our economic system, therefore, is to seek to break through the state boundaries. The whole globe, the land and the sea, the surface as well as the interior has become one economic workshop, the different parts of which are inseparably connected with each other. This work was accomplished y capitalism. But in accomplishing it the capitalist states were led to struggle for the subjection of the world-embracing economic system to the profit interests of the bourgeoisie of each country. What the politics of imperialism has demonstrated more than anything else is that the old national state that was created in the revolutions and the wars of 1789-1815, 1848-1859, 1864-1866, and 1870 has outlived itself, and is now an intolerable hindrance to economic development.”

    Every true socialist, every class-conscious worker and trade unionist, every young person who wants to fight for a better world, must join in the most active and militant struggle against unjust imperialist war. It is necessary to create the broadest possible mass movement against imperialism and militarism. It is necessary to oppose the monstrous aggression against the people of Iraq and elsewhere by all means at our disposal.

    We must fight against the war, but we must do so with the correct methods, tactics and policies: the tactics of the workers’ movement, the policies of socialism and internationalism that links the struggle against world imperialism with the perspective of the socialist transformation of society at home and abroad.

    Recommended further reading:

    Manifesto on the Imperialist War Against Iraq
    Some Questions on American Problems – By Leon Trotsky
    A Reply to the RSL – Chauvinism and Revolutionary Defeatism – By Ted Grant
    Marxism and War – By Phil Mitchinson
    The Roots of Modern War – By James Connolly
    Socialism and War – By VI Lenin
    War and the International – By Leon Trotsky
    Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism – By VI Lenin
    Pacifism as the Servant of Imperialism – By Leon Trotsky