By Patricia Lee SharpeHere is the quickly accumulated conventional wisdom: If the Nobel wasn’t an out and out joke, it was nevertheless a mistake for Obama to accept it. Either way, Obama didn’t deserve it. It's an albatross he’ll regret, as he tries to move forward with his agenda.
All in all, the primary objection to the choice of Obama for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is this: He hasn’t accomplished anything or—as the more charitable put it—he hasn’t accomplished enough.
I want to suggest another way to regard this surprising development.
But first, here’s a relevant bit of news that occurred almost simultaneously: Turkey and Armenia have signed an accord to resume diplomatic relations after more than half a century of enmity. Pictures of the signing showed Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiling broadly. Swiss mediators also helped the process along. Given that Armenian-Americans have been agitating for Congress to apply the word “genocide” to what happened as the Ottoman Empire passed into history and the Turkish military is still trying to suppress memory of the wholesale slaughter, this rapprochement is a major accomplishment for the Obama administration.
The Nobel Committee could not have known that the Turkey-Armenia accord was reaching fruition, but it lends credibility to the 2009 Peace Prize, which begins by declaring that the Committee is giving it to U.S. President Barack Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Surely this is something that Obama has “done,” although, like all good diplomacy, it makes a mishmash of simplistic distinctions between words and actions, a distinction which has been used to belittle the idea of recognizing the very articulate Barack Obama.
Much has been made of two categories of Nobel nominations, one being aspirational, the other having to do with accomplishment. The award for Obama has everything to do with aspiration—an aspiration for solutions to a world racked by violence and brutality. There are no Gandhis among us, no Nelson Mandelas, no Martin Luther Kings, and yet there is an ache for leaders who can not only lead but inspire us, as Barack Obama certainly did during his election campaign.
Now I don’t want to sound too gushy here, so let me tell you where I’m coming from. I was a very strong supporter of Hillary Clinton for President, for three reasons. One, it’s time for a female president. Two, I felt Obama was too conservative at heart. Three, his campaign slogans were a little too facile for me. In the end, of course, I had to vote for him, but since then I have (to the discomfort of friends who supported Obama from day one) criticized his massaging of Republican obstructionists, his coddling of the financial institutions that took advantage of lax regulation, his delicate treatment of health insurance companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers. So I’m not a charter Obama worshipper. I’m trying to think outside my own comfy little leftist box.
And now—this is even richer!—the massively obstructive Republicans insist that a do-nothing Obama doesn’t deserve the Peace Prize!
Back to the Nobel Committee. From their point of view, what Obama has managed to fully accomplish, so far, on issues of mutual concern is clearly not the fundamental issue. Although the Committee have come in for a good amount of ridicule in the last few days, they are not so dumb as to be unaware of U.S. political constraints and the complexities of international politics. In the absence of giants, they could indeed have refused to make an award this year. Instead, they chose to give the prize to someone who is not only talking the talk, but really is walking the walk, however difficult the path.
How much Barack Obama accomplishes over this four-year presidential term depends on him but also on us. The Nobel Committee, no doubt, is gambling we’ll find a way to get in touch “with the better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln put it. Meanwhile, in Barack Obama’s words, the Committee has used this prize “to give momentum to a set of causes” that would surely please those angels.
Doesn't that make a good deal of sense? What's more, so far from being a burden, this gesture of confirmation from the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Committee may help President Barak Obama maintain civility and keep the course despite the obstacles at home and abroad.