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Obama, the peace prize and country

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Much has been said and written today about the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to President Barack Obama, from Michelle Malkin’s spastic, right-of-right, true-to-form fragmentary post on the subject, to the Huffington Post’s more rosey view of the man. This BBC story attempts to give a sweeping view of some of the sentiments coming from the American media on the announcement.

Obama is the third sitting president to have been given the honor, followed by Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. Jimmy Carter has also won it, but that award came 20 or so years after he left office. Al Gore has as well.

I think this award, more than anything else, amounts to Obama being perceived in much of Europe as the “un-Bush,” as David Ignatius of The Washington Post dubbed it, perhaps fueled, in part, by his speech Sept. 23 to the U.N. General Assembly, and his speech in Cairo, and in his speech on race, and his diplomatic policies, his reaching out to the Muslim world, and, finally, his stance on nuclear nonproliferation. As Ignatius notes,

That’s what he’s being honored for, really: reconnecting America to the world and making us popular again. If you want to understand the sentiments behind the prize, look at the numbers in the Transatlantic Trends report released last month by the German Marshall Fund. Obama’s approval rating in Germany: 92 percent compared to 12 percent for George Bush. His approval in the Netherlands: 90 percent compared to 18 percent for Bush. His favorability rating in Europe overall (77 percent) was much higher than in America (57 percent).

Some, of course, like Dick Cheney, would argue that it doesn’t matter whether we are popular. It matters that we are safe. But, unless our plan is to continue our imperialistic ways forever, I think it does matter, and is a good thing, if other, respected countries within the global community think we are on the right track internationally. No good at all can surely come from being disliked by most of the industrialized, modern countries of the world, as we were under the last woeful administration.

This award, in truth, is not about any one thing Obama has done, for he hasn’t done much on the global stage. It’s about an ideal for a more globally connected America. And while some will cry foul and say many of  the other 200-something candidates were actually doing hard, hands-on work to promote peace, I do believe that this award says more about this country than this president, signifying the stunning reversal from the last administration’s G.I. Joe approach to foreign matters to our election of a diplomat. The Nobel Prize committee, using any rational, could never give this award to Obama based on any tangible accomplishments (and Obama admits this), but as he said, it’s a “call to action.”

Some, like this YouTube user, wrongly suggest that the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s decision was “apparently made just after the president took office.” (One can gauge this person’s level of credibility by noticing the channel he happens to be watching in this video.) No. In fact, nomination submissions close Feb. 1, but the choice isn’t made until October. Thus, it is true: someone nominated Obama just after his inauguration, but Obama’s leadership through these seven-eight months must have had some impact.

Regardless, as I’ve said, does he deserve it on his own merit? Probably not. And he says so himself. Is it a good thing for our country? Absolutely. John Adams, a founder whom I’m come to revere greatly, saw, not only the importance of believing in his “country,” but also recognized the importance of being respected on the world’s stage. If we aren’t, we’re cowboys. Though Cheney and Bush would seemingly have it no other way, the era of cowboys and gunslinging is long gone, and we must move with, not against or in spite of, other sovereign, modern, democratic nations.

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