Unearned Honor

I think it’s great that our young and charismatic new President has, in less than a year in office, managed to heal our relationships with our allies.  That may well be the single most valuable thing he’s done for the United States since taking office.  Leaders of other nations, particularly European nations, are just plain in the bag for Barack Obama.

But President Obama has not — NOT — earned the Nobel Peace Prize.  He should politely thank the Nobel committee for their consideration of him but until he makes good on the promise and potential they see in him, he should have the humility to point out that he hasn’t delivered on his promises yet.  When he does, then he could be a viable candidate for what should be such a signal honor.  The committee’s decision to award this prize to President Obama

What, I ask you, has he done to advance the cause of world peace?  What major diplomatic coup has he pulled off?  He has not used the power and prestige of his office to encourage peace with respect to the ongoing conflict in Israel — that conflict continues at its low boil.  Obama hasn’t actually done all that much to turn the heat down there.  In fact, during his initial attempts to set up talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, he failed to prevent both sides from engaging in provocative actions back home and allowed the process to derail as both sides boasted about their achievements for political gain within their own constituencies, collapsing diplomatic efforts for a year or more.  Even Jimmy Carter was able to get Egyptians and Israelis at the same table to talk to each other.

India and Pakistan continue to posture to one another.  With nuclear arsenals.  China continues its antics about re-incorporating Taiwan although we all know by now that they’re very unlikely to do anything about it.  North Korea claims to have developed nukes — a claim of mixed credibility — but seems to have tried to export them and we’ve done, it would seem, not much about that.

Colombia on the one hand and Venezuela and Ecuador on the other have postured and spat at one another.  It hasn’t come to blows yet, fortunately.  I can recall no significant effort by the United States to diffuse those tensions, however.  Obama spoke briefly with Hugo Chavez at a summit conference rather than snubbing him, which George W. Bush would have been wont to do.  But nothing significant was exchanged during that conversation.

We’re not exactly rattling our saber to Iran.  We have pointed out to them that we have one.  I applaud Obama for having at least that much steel in his diplomacy.  But it’s not like a President McCain or a President Bush would be doing anything much differently with respect to Iran than Obama is doing.

Osama bin Laden is still at large.  Obama has ratcheted down the rhetoric on the desperate need to capture and destroy terrorists as compared to his predecessors — but the U.S. still operates under the USA PATRIOT Act, our camp at Guantanamo Bay remains open for business, as a nation we have still not even acknowledged or apologized for torturing prisoners.  While we would have no way of knowing how much we are still doing it, but our policy of rendition of high-value targets remains in place.  All of the U.S. policies that international leaders objected to so strongly under George W. Bush continue in full force under Barack Obama.

And most tellingly, American troops continue to maintain a massive presence and frequent activity in Iraq and President Obama has escalated American military presence in Afghanistan — and even now, as the prize is awarded, is considering doubling down on that maneuver by sending still more troops to make war in that barren corner of Asia.  So the Nobel committee has awarded the Peace prize to the leader of a nation that is fighting two wars and actually stepping up military activity in one of them.

About the only thing that can be credited to Obama is that he has brought a new, different, and conciliatory tone to American diplomacy and relations with other nations. There isn’t any of this go-it-alone-if-we-have-to or with-us-or-against-us talk from Obama.  He does seem to genuinely give a damn about what other nations think and he does seem to actually care that international relationships be mutually advantageous.  Which is an improvement from the Bush Administration, as I see it, but it’s about minimum threshold for what it takes to have effective diplomacy going on at all.

But while Obama talks a good game, effecting actual change so far appears to be beyond his power.  His vaunted charisma and personal magnetism couldn’t even sway something so trivial as the location of the Olympics in 2016.  Granted, it’s hard to compete with The Girl From Ipanema, but still.

In short, the world is not really at that much more peaceful now than it was a year ago at this time.  Or a year before that.  Obama has not earned the prize.  It was given to him as a rebuke against his predecessor for what amounts to clumsy rhetoric.  The Nobel Committee has embarrassed itself by awarding its most prestigious prize in this fashion, and Obama should decline it.

More underwhelmed reactions to this bizarre news from David Bernstein at Volokh, Will Collier, Dave Brockington and Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway, Rick Moran at Right Wing Nut House, dana at Edge of the American West (who gets the “succinctitude” prize), Patrick at Popehat, the Daily Beast, the Times of London, Steven Dubner of the New York Times (who thought it was satire from The Onion), the Associated Press, and Nobel Peace Laurelate Lech Walesa, whose spot-on reaction was “Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast — he hasn’t had the time to do anything yet.”  More reaction will be coming in from all quarters throughout the day.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I understan there were about 200 some people on the A list. What happened to the day where pepole like Albert Schweitzer, Mother Theresa were awarded this prestigous prize? I do not think Obama can be faulted for this (I'm not one of his fans), but only the organiaztion that gave it to him.

  2. I agree that this award seems to have been handed out a bit hastily. I have not seen the news today and am curious as to what the President will ultimately do in this situation.

  3. I'm not sure what's with the shot at Jimmy Carter ("Even Jimmy Carter was able to get Egyptians and Israelis at the same table to talk to each other."). If I recall correctly, President Carter did considerably more than that: getting Israel and Egypt to sign an actual, factual, bona fide peace treaty — Israel's first with any of its neighbors.I'd rank that as probably our biggest diplomatic coup in the region — including our actual, you know, coups. As weird as it is to say, when it comes to Mideast peace accomplishments in a presidency, President Carter is pretty tough to top.

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