Surprise! As if expectations weren’t high enough for the new American president, Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after nine months in office, and all without achieving a terrific amount of peace.
In a rare move, the Nobel committee awarded the prize to encourage what it sees as a strong movement in the direction of peace rather than reward someone who had already brought peace about. Obama owes a nod to his predecessor, George W. Bush, for being such a bad guy that his own moderate liberalism seems God-sent.
If you think nine months as President isn’t enough time to merit the Nobel Peace Prize, consider that the nomination window for the prize closed only two weeks into his first term. But then, as now, someone hedged their bets thinking that this Obama guy might do some good—or anyway, we all desperately need him to.
Some have criticized the award for being another gesture in a gesture filled Presidency, i.e. lofty speeches with few remarkable results. What is needed, some say, are pragmatic achievements, not symbolic ones. To be sure, the two are not mutually exclusive—symbolic acts may bring about pragmatic ones and visa-versa—and perhaps this new support for America’s new turn will help push peace along.
The New York Times quotes a member of the Nobel Committee comparing Obama to Willy Brandt, the social democrat who was awarded the Peace Prize despite his controversial Eastern European diplomacy during the Cold War, controversial because it had not yet achieved peace.
For this reason, Republican attacks on the President, i.e. that he hasn’t done enough to deserve the award, are as correct as they are irrelevant. As Obama acknowledged during his acceptance speech, “I do not view [the Peace Prize] as a recognition of my own accomplishments.”
As we face problems more collectively than ever before, e.g. global warming, multinational finance, connected markets and global terrorism, support of an all-encompassing figurehead was perhaps inevitable. The Nobel Committee has tried to push the moment to its crisis, mounting pressure on the leader of the world’s most powerful country to lead us through crises existential and just plain old terrible.
For more opinion, see the Atlantic Wire.