BY Andrew Spink
The debate over President Barack Obama’s qualifications to receive the Nobel Peace Prize is certainly an important one, and people have been quick to express a variety of opinions on the subject.
Those on the Republican side of the aisle did not hesitate to criticize the award. While some of these criticisms were based solely in partisanship, many other conservatives have made thoughtful arguments as to why they believed the prize was awarded prematurely or erroneously. Democrats have expressed mixed emotions on the subject, ranging from elation, to concern, to hopefulness. The emotion that both sides shared, however, was surprise.
The president himself clearly shared this surprise and was quick to express humility on the subject, feeling that he did not deserve to be in such distinguished company. Indeed, if we look at Obama’s record thus far, it is easy to make the case that he falls short. The level of American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has not been significantly reduced since he took office.
Many have wondered why the Nobel Peace Prize is being awarded to someone who is, and apparently will continue to be for some time, a war president. Furthermore, his young administration has not yet produced a major peace agreement, and his tangible accomplishments as president would not seem to be great enough to warrant such a prize.
To understand the award, however, we must look at those things that are intangible. The Obama campaign tapped into an aspect of the American character that had been lying dormant for a number of years.
His original opposition to the war in Iraq, paired with his ability to get young people interested in politics, set the stage for an American reinvigoration. Talking with family members who came of age during the tumultuous 1960s, there is a sense of frustration with that time period, and that frustration continues even until today. Progressivism made great strides during that time, especially in the areas of civil rights and gender equality, but there was an undeniable sense of unfinished business.
The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Kennedy brothers took much of the momentum out of movements that were taking place at that time. The Vietnam War painfully dragged on for a number of additional years, and was then followed by what Steven Chu jokingly referred to last Saturday as the decades when everyone was just concerned about making money.
The attacks of September 11 and the invasion of Iraq once again derailed our country, as we became convinced that we could achieve our security through unprovoked violence and a go-it-alone attitude, instead of the cooperation and restraint that a powerful country should exhibit. Many now hope that the time has come for the United States to act as a responsible leader on the world stage.
This award was not really about Barack Obama and his personal achievements, but rather a hopeful statement about the changing character of American foreign policy.
The decision to award the prize to Obama reflects the world’s desire to see the return of a wise and compassionate America. As the Nobel Prize Committee has said, Obama has worked to bring people together and change the nature of the international dialogue. But just as peace cannot be achieved by one single individual, this Nobel Peace Prize was intended to honor not just one person, but rather the set of ideals on which that person was elected.
In a way, the award is for all of us, because we collectively decided, at least in principle, to abandon the harmful policies of the past. We should be proud for the president and for our country, even if we may happen to think that the individual award is undeserved.
The promise that Obama made to us is what earned him the prize, but the real work is ahead. This is an honor that he still has to live up to, and let us hope he succeeds.
Spink is a
Take Five Scholar.
BY Andrew Spink