Posted on Saturday, October 10th, 2009 at 5:35 pm
Author: Renee Martin
Since 1901, The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to those that have gone to great lengths to make significant contributions to our world. Some of the notables include Jimmy Carter Jr, Nelson Mandela, The 14th Dalai Lama (Tensin Gyatso), and Mother Teresa. There can be no doubt that the aforementioned names have tirelessly worked to ensure that the world that we live in is a better place. Nominations for the award took place in early February of this year and Obama was not even inaugurated until January 20th. This, of course, raises the question of whether Obama has at this time accomplished enough to be given such a prestigious award.
Many labour under the assumption that one must merit the The Nobel Peace Prize, rather than the award itself being a signification of hope and encouragement. Yet according to the Associated Press, “More often, the prize is awarded to encourage those who receive it to see the effort through, sometimes at critical moments.”
This would make commentary about Obama’s award being “based in affirmative action” quite ironic if it were not for the fact that Thobjorn Jagland, the former prime minister of Norway, who chaired this year’s committee, insists that it’s for work the president has already accomplished. Apparently the award was given for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Since entering the international stage, Obama’s message has been consistent in terms of a demand for change and accountability. When this is compared to the actions of his predecessor George Bush Jr, it is fair to say that his position promotes global harmony and values our shared humanity. In fact, the Norwegian Nobel Committee released the following statement regarding the selection of Barack Obama for an award:
“Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.”
According to the Washington Post,
“Obama has pledged to make progress on three other fronts: pushing for Senate ratification of an international treaty banning nuclear testing; reaching an agreement on halting production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium; and strengthening the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, the grand global bargain in which most nations pledged not to seek nuclear arms”.
However, Obama’s insistence that the United States will retain a military arsenal “as long as these weapons exist,” is indeed problematic. How is it possible that the only nation to use an atomic bomb still considers that it has the right to determine which states can possess nuclear arms as a form of deterrence? True leadership would mean complete and total disarmament. This is more about maintaining American hegemony than it is about ensuring a nuclear free world.
Obama has also made great strides to ending the war in Iraq, however; the plan is to escalate the current conflict in Afghanistan. More people have died in Afghanistan than died in trade towers and therefore an escalation is hardly a measured response. Obama has made it clear that he is a defender of women’s rights and yet the protests from the women of Afghanistan go unheard. Can liberation really be found at the end of an M-16?
There is no doubt that after eight years of Bush-inflicted tyranny, Obama is a relief. His emphatic position that torture is wrong and inhumane is a direct contradiction of almost everything George Bush stood for, for example. Yet is it fair to get such a prestigious award simply for not being like your predecessor?
The other two other sitting presidents to win the Nobel Peace prize were Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt won for his intervention in a war between Russia and Japan, which lead to a peace treaty in 1905. Wilson won for the creation of the now defunct League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations. Obama has yet to prove himself to be a great negotiator, or inventor of far-reaching social organizations.
During the previous election campaign, McCain accused Obama of being a vapid celebrity. Some would even go as far as to claim that Obama is the leader of a personality cult. Yet while Obama is much beloved globally, this does not mean that admiration has not had a critical edge to it. During the campaign when he attempted to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, because he was criticized for failing to pay attention to Europe, his plan was derailed when Merkel stated that she had “little sympathy for the Brandenburg Gate being used for electioneering.” This is a location from which American presidents have traditionally addressed the German populace and therefore, as a senator at the time, Obama had yet to achieve the right to use the gate as a backdrop for his address. It was viewed as a presumptuous decision in the minds of German officials, despite their clear appreciation of Obama.
From the moment Obama made his election bid, his status as a one term senator was used to question his ability to lead. Obama is the first Black leader of the Harvard Law Review and now the first African American president. He is representative of a tremendous shift in public sentiment, but how much does this have to do with his accomplishments, and how much is it due to the fact that he is the African American leader of a clearly White supremacist state? His very body is transgressive and that in and of itself is not an accomplishment, but an accident of birth. To become the first African American president was a great achievement, but that does not necessarily translate into a transformative change or resistance to what is viewed as acceptable oppression.
Gaining power and wielding it to benefit others are two very different things. When Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize it was because he was attempting to fundamentally change the Soviet Union. Even those who support Obama have been critical of his inaction on issues like DODT, DOMA, progressive legislation specifically aimed at the African American community and securing universal healthcare. It is fair to say that within the United States itself, his achievements remain questionable.
The journey to the Oval office was certainly more difficult for Obama than any other previous president, but the Nobel Peace Prize is meant to be larger than this. Kwame Nkrumah (Osagyefo), who spent his life supporting Pan-Africanism in the belief that it was possible to combine capitalism with traditional African values was denied, for one thing. And when a man like Gandhi can be nominated five times without winning, where does this position a man like Obama?
Has Obama reached the level of accomplishment of these men, those whom the committee chose to ignore? Perhaps, in years to come, we shall look at the decision to bestow the Nobel Peace Prize upon Obama as a brilliant moment of foreshadowing. As it stands today, despite what his body physically represents, Obama has yet to create the change that he spoke of on his path to power.
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