Barack Obama's premature Nobel peace prize

Yes, the President looks good hanging out with world leaders and his heart is in the right place. Is that enough?

Published October 9, 2009 1:30PM (EDT)

Barack Obama gave a good speech in Cairo, has received generally positive reviews for his performances at international conclaves of the G-7 and G-20, and, well, he's not George W. Bush. But does that justify a Nobel Peace Prize? Or a salute to "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples"? It's hard to argue with the puzzled reporter who challenged the Nobel Committee representative making the announcement:

"He has not achieved anything in concrete as of yet," she said. "Is the Nobel Committee not risking the accusation of being a little political by giving this precious award to an incumbent U.S. president?"

The representative responded that the committee doesn't just award the prize for past successes, but to "enhance what many personalities have tried to do." (Which still doesn't explain Henry Kissinger's Nobel, but never mind.)

Fair enough. Obama has made a strong rhetorical case for global cooperation, and what we've seen so far from him suggests that he will not exert U.S. power in the world with the same unilateral my-way-or-the-highway arrogance that his predecessor was so fond of. That's not insignificant. Perhaps the best case that can be made for this award is that billions of people around the world seem to feel a lot better since Obama's election as President of the United States -- at least as judged by the enormous rise in positive attitudes about the U.S. measured by international pollsters. So the world's happiness quotient may have improved, which could, one supposes, lead to less conflict.

But coming right after a week in which Obama ducked meeting with the Dalai Lama and is considering a troop increase in Afghanistan, it seems a bit premature. Even worse, it seems like a huge distraction. The American right-wing will be driven into yet another apoplectic fit by this news. That might be funny to watch, but likely not peace-enhancing.

Barack Obama is trying to get healthcare reform passed, fix the economy, and do something about climate change, not to mention get U.S. troops out of Iraq and some kind of resolution in Afghanistan. If he achieves all that, he definitely deserves a prize. But not quite yet.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Barack Obama How The World Works Nobel Peace Prize