Obama got the Nobel because he's a game changer

The president's selection as Peace Prize winner is well within the rules laid out by Alfred Nobel in his will

By Juan Cole

Published October 11, 2009 7:11AM (EDT)

I was listening to National Public Radio on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, and they brought on some nonentity from one of Rupert Murdoch's faux "magazines," who delivered himself of the remark that when he heard the news, he broke out laughing. He laughed at Obama. He is being paid by the Aussie media monopolist, the billionaire bully, to laugh at Obama.

The right in the U.S. objected to Obama getting the Peace Prize on the alleged grounds that he had not yet done anything to deserve it. But the right in the United States is to peace as velociraptors were to vegetarianism. They don't believe in the ideal for which the award stands in the first place. And they find President Obama laughable, so they can't imagine him getting any awards. They have underestimated him badly and will probably pay a price for that. They misunderstand the Nobel Peace Prize and its history, and the Rupert Murdoch right (he pays for a lot of this pollution of our airwaves) would not have agreed with any of the past awards.

Alfred Nobel outlined in his will the grounds on which the Peace Prize was to be given, saying it should go annually to the person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding of peace congresses." The modern committee considers work toward the reduction of nuclear arsenals in the same light as the reduction of standing armies, hence its award to Linus Pauling.

The American right wing would not have approved of Woodrow Wilson getting the prize for helping found the League of Nations. They do not believe in international cooperation or multilateralism in the first place. They think America should cowboy it. They are the tribe of "bring'em on" and "wanted dead or alive." They are about trapping the country in quagmires so as to throw cash to their cronies in the military-industrial complex. They like wars, not peace. They don't care how many people they kill in the global south. A million Iraqis dead? They deny it or justify it or blame it on someone else. They are bottom feeders. 

They would have considered Frederic Passy, the first peace Nobelist, as a woolly-headed dreamer and laughed at a Universal Peace Conference organized just a little over a decade before the mass slaughter of World War I. They would have dismissed Jane Addams as a "socialist." And what would have provoked them to more gales of laughter than the 1935 award to the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky. How'd that work out, they'd snicker as they elbowed each other (with any luck breaking some of each other's ribs). If there is anyone they find more laughable than Barack Obama, it is Jimmy Carter (the greatest ex-president in American history), the 2002 awardee. Mohammad Elbaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly got in the way of the American right's war plans, so presumably they didn't rejoice at his 2005 prize. They don't believe in climate change or global warming and want us to switch to the dirtiest coal possible, so Al Gore's 2007 prize set them giggling, as well.

Matt Corley explained at the time how Murdochians insisted that Al Gore had no accomplishments worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize and that it should have gone to Gen. Petraeus instead. I admire both men, but by the criteria outlined in Nobel's will, it was Gore who had a claim on the prize.

Barack Obama was given the prize because he is a game changer. Obama has dedicated himself to reducing and ultimately scrapping the nuclear arsenals that threaten the world with nuclear winter or a destruction of the ozone layer; either event would be catastrophic for human beings' existence on the planet. Obama has already made a substantial change in relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Two years ago we were talking about whether Cheney could convince Americans to go to war on Iran. Now Washington is engaging in direct talks with Tehran that have easied tensions.

Whether she or he actually achieves peace or not is unpredictable, but game changers are clearly visible to everyone. The handshake between Rabin and Arafat in the early 1990s was potentially a game changer, and the Oslo deal would have profoundly enhanced world peace if it had worked (it might even have averted 9/11 and the subsequent wars). Al Gore's campaign for the environment was a game changer. Shirine Ebadi's dedication to a rule of law in Iran is a game changer, and she gives hope to many otherwise cynical youth and women.

For those who are giggling and demanding concrete improvements, it is worth noting that most of the recipients have been idealists rather than practical persons. Obama is both, and therefore he has a real shot at vindicating the social worth of his policies in the future. Right-wing policies were tried for eight years and they failed. Miserably.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole is collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He runs a news and commentary webzine on U.S. foreign policy and progressive politics, Informed Comment. His new book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires (Nation Books), has just been published.


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