On Friday, it was announced that the surprise winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was a figure you may have heard of: United States President Barack Obama. While world leaders have almost universally praised the decision, it has been also been met with criticism, and not only from the leader of the Taliban and a Middle Eastern jihadist. One look at the ‘reliable’ BBC Have Your Say section reveals just how many people see Obama either as too young in his presidency or altogether undeserving.
On the face of it, there is a valid point. If the Nobel Prize is simply awarded to the person who has actively done the most to help achieve peace, then there are others more deserving. Early favourites included Morgan Tsvangarei, the Zimbabwean Prime Minister who, despite himself and his supporters being under constant threat from his opposition and the death of his wife in a tragic car crash, has battled to see his country reach a compromise with the tyrannical president Robert Mugabe. This seems in itself far more than Obama has achieved in his infant presidency.
However, the award of this prestigious prize is a strong statement from Europe about America’s return to the world’s hearts and its support for the agenda Obama has put forth. For the first time in decades, the world’s biggest power has a president that is more interested in diplomacy than war, in compromise over obstinacy, and multilateralism over pig-headed unilateralism. The man in the White House has spoken seriously about nuclear disarmament including the US, and reached out to the Middle East, making speeches in Berlin and Cairo that were greeted positively by many Arabic nations, if cautiously. Through all the accusations of style over substance levelled at Obama by his opponents, he has nonetheless through his rhetoric and his positive message managed to capture the hearts and minds of the world in a unifying move towards harmony and away from discord.
The award is the Nobel Prize Committee saying on behalf of the world, “We like what you want to do – now go out and do it.” This will add pressure to the president to ensure that he does follow through on the pledges he has made. It will also hopefully convince some of the nay-sayers in the states that by going against a vision of peace and cooperation they are going against the rest of the world.
This potentially falls into the trap of politicising what is supposed to be an impartial award for peace efforts, and perhaps it is. However, what compromises it makes on Nobel protocol are not for us to decide. It may be that the prize, normally awarded to those who promote peace, is in effect now fulfilling this purpose directly.
As we have it on good authority that the president’s aides read the Boar to him every morning, we would like to congratulate you, Mr President. Now go and fulfil the hope you have instilled.