If they could not find an agreeable winner, maybe they should simply cancel Nobel peace prize. Save the prize money for a new Nobel maths prize. At least Obama is humble enough to say he does not deserve the prize.
Oct 9th 2009 – Economist
Is it premature to give Barack Obama the Nobel peace prize, less than a year into his presidency?
BARACK OBAMA, who has been America’s president for just nine months, has won the 2009 Nobel peace prize. Perhaps the Nordic judges felt it was a suitable consolation after Chicago lost out to Rio de Janeiro in its bid to host the 2016 Olympic games. Or the prizegivers might have felt moved by Mr Obama’s personal story: that a mixed-race man is president says much about the peaceful progress on race relations in America. Instead they emphasised Mr Obama’s aspirations and his commitment to diplomacy, even if, so far, he has achieved little that is concrete.
Most broadly, he has sought to engage with opponents, saying that America would “extend a hand, if you unclench your fist”, for example to those who were earlier dismissed as an “axis of evil”. Somewhat to the discomfort of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had bolstered his domestic support by vilifying America as an aggressor, Mr Obama has proposed holding talks about nuclear affairs, removing a precondition that Iran first abandon enrichment of uranium. Mr Obama made withdrawal of American forces from Iraq one of the main pledges of his election campaign and has since overseen a slightly quicker run down of troops than was envisaged by Mr Bush. Towards North Korea, too, Mr Obama has dangled the prospect of bilateral talks and closer engagement.
Regarding Russia Mr Obama has developed a policy of notably warmer ties, dubbed “hitting the reset button”. Relations had become especially frosty towards the end of Mr Bush’s presidency when war broke out between Georgia, an ally of America, and Russia. Since coming to office Mr Obama has also overseen talks aimed at reducing the nuclear arsenals of Russia and America, while speaking of his ultimate wish to “get to zero”—somehow ridding the world of all nuclear weapons. Most substantially (and to the dismay of the Polish and Czech governments), he has scrapped an earlier plan to deploy a missile-defence shield on land in eastern Europe, which had been seen as a provocation by Russia.
Yet Mr Obama’s main achievement is a change of tone in foreign policy. A speech given in Egypt in June was an eloquent call for a new understanding between America and Islam. It was designed both to assure Muslims, now thought to number 1.6 billion around the world, that America is not set on a crusade. Similarly it was intended to convey to any Americans (and others) who believe in the notion of a “clash of civilisations” that friendly ties between religions is eminently possible.
Similarly, American policy towards small and repressive regimes, ranging from Myanmar to Cuba, has shifted in mood, if not yet substance, by offering the prospect of engagement if governments demonstrate progress towards democracy. Some may also see Mr Obama’s push for more action to tackle climate change as a factor—he is urging Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill and has said that his administration would decree new environmental rules if Congress fails to do so. (Al Gore, another Democratic figure, also won the Nobel prize, for his campaigns against climate change.)
Yet critics will have plenty to complain about. The prize-giving committee was at pains to emphasise Mr Obama’s “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. In the citation, the committee argued that his “diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” But is the award premature? Although the prize may be given in the spirit of encouraging Mr Obama’s government, it might have been better to wait for more solid achievements. With so many good intentions, and so many initiatives scattered around the world (and an immensely busy domestic agenda, including health-care reform and averting economic collapse), Mr Obama appears to be racing around trying everything without yet achieving much.
One might point to Mr Obama’s lauded decision to close the military prison for terrorist suspects in Guantánamo Bay, and his explicit rejection of the use of torture by American spies and interrogators. Both are welcome, but for now Guantánamo Bay remains open. Carrying through on promises is proving far harder than making them. Similarly Mr Obama made progress in encouraging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold talks about peace earlier this year, but as he is distracted by other concerns both parties have since drifted away from negotiations. And so far North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Russia—among others—have offered nothing of substance to demonstrate that a policy of engagement will bring more results than Mr Bush’s tough line.
More troubling is Afghanistan. Although the Nobel committee has now rewarded Mr Obama with a title of peacemaker (plus $1.4m or so), he remains a war president. He must shortly decide whether to deploy an additional 40,000 soldiers to fight against Taliban and other insurgents in a conflict that has lasted for eight years. With no obvious means of ending that war, there is a serious possibility that Mr Obama’s presidency will become dominated by worsening conditions there.
Mr Obama’s aspirations may be laudable, but he has several tough years ahead. The Nobel committee evidently wants to encourage him but it might have been wiser to hold judgment until he has achieved more. In America itself, the decision has already infuriated conservative commentators, ensuring there will be no peace on the home front, at least.