Obama’s Nobel Prize

Everyone was shocked.  The radical right was outraged and incoherent.  The President’s supporters, taken off-guard, were bewildered.  The President himself seemed wary: “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize.” (See “Surprise Nobel for Obama Stirs Praise and Doubts.”)

The confusion stems from the assumption that the Prize is a reward for accomplishment, like the prizes in physics and chemistry.  To be sure, sometimes it is.  In 1978, it was given to Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin as a reward for their work inaugurating the peace process at Camp David.  In 1953, George Marshall received it for his far-sighted and successful efforts to rebuild Europe.  But the 1984 award to Desmond Tutu occurred well before apartheid was abolished in South Africa, and the award to the Burmese dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi occurred in the absence of any significant change in that country.

The hard thing to see here, I think, is that the Nobel committee is trying to give Obama an assist.  Their assumption must be that he needs it, like some of the other recipients over the years.  For us, this is cognitive dissonance.  It doesn’t compute.  How can the most powerful man in the world need help?  And, even if he does, how would it be possible to help him?

Among many Americans, it stirs up feeling of intrusion or meddling.  Those who support Obama wonder if it will really help him or just be an embarrassment.  Perhaps it is a clumsy and misguided effort that may even solidify resentment and opposition.  Those who seem to be fighting him every step of the way, are responding by trashing the Nobel committee and the prize itself.  They are true to form.

But it may help him abroad in his efforts to reestablish diplomacy as a solution to international conflicts.  The prize may be hard for us to understand, but it was given by Europeans and it plays well in Europe.

The peace it celebrates may be the cease fire between us and our allies.