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Politics & Current Affairs

Will Obama’s Nobel Be a Distraction?

Last week I wrote that President Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize more as a show of support for the multilateral policy he advocates than for anything he has actually done. But I also argued that the award is uncomfortably at odds with the fact that the United States is currently fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as holding prisoners under deplorable conditions at Guantánamo and Bagram Airforce Base without legal justification.

Another awkward fact is that President Obama was given the award in part for his role in getting the United States to play “a more constructive role in the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.” But while Obama does deserve recognition for his work changing our climate change policy, as Tobin Hack points out, the award comes as developing countries are walking out of climate talks in Bangkok in part because the United States’ reluctance to commit money to helping them adapt to climate change.

Steve Benen argues that in spite of all this President Obama may deserve the award, in part for the significant accomplishment of “charting a new course for American leadership” after the Bush era. And Steve Clemons likewise thinks that “the Nobel Prize Committee has shrewdly given a key down payment for a kind of leadership it wants to see from the U.S. for many more years and given Obama another tool help craft a new global social contract between the United States and other responsible stakeholders in the international system.”

But in some ways the award may actually make it harder for President Obama to pursue his agenda, by adding to the impression that he hasn’t actually done anything to deserve the adulation and honors he received. The Republican National Committee immediately fired off a fund-raising letter joking that Obama had won “the Nobel Peace Prize for Awesomeness” and accusing the Democrats of wanting to make American “subservient to the agenda of global redistribution and control.” The Democratic National Committee responded by attacking the Republicans for throwing in their lot with the terrorists because Hamas and the Taliban were also critical of the award. Both sides’ accusations, as David Sirota argues, are completely absurd. But in the end, the award may be little more than another distraction that Obama doesn’t need.


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