Turn It Down

It’s not Obama’s fault that the Nobel Committee decided to award him the 2009 Peace Prize. Really, it’s not. In fact, I almost feel bad for Obama – he probably doesn’t deserve the resentment that this announcement will inevitably provoke. Unless the Administration actively lobbied for recognition – something I find implausible, if only because it’s so politically tone-def – this is nothing more than a bad case of friendly fire.

But Obama should, as Kaus suggests, politely decline to accept the award. The Nobel Committee’s rationale is laughably thin, and there are hundreds of more deserving recipients out there who could actually use the recognition.

UPDATE: I see Freddie beat me to it. He’s right, of course. I really hope we spend the next week talking about health care or Denmark or The Office wedding or anything other than the pretensions of some five-member blue ribbon committee in Oslo.

UPDATE II: Mark your calendars, folks. On this day, John Bolton is making sense.

UPDATE III: Phew! I was worried that no one would inject race into this discussion, but fortunately, RedState comes through in the clutch.

UPDATE IV: Get some coffee in your system, Sullivan. And then get back to us with a revised opinion.

UPDATE V: In comments, Michael Drew suggests that turning down a Peace Prize would be a slap in the face to the Nobel Committee. Well, fair enough. After issuing such an absurd decision, they deserve a wake-up call. I also think that recipients always retain the option to decline an award.

Moreover, I don’t think politely declining would be a sign of contempt. Any statement from Obama could be couched in terms of his reverence for the prize – “While I aspire to accomplish something that might merit this award in the future, I feel that I have not yet completed the great tasks that lie before us” or something.

UPDATE VI: It occurs to me that Obama can better afford to offend the Norwegians than the people who actually vote for him

UPDATE VII: Here’s the closest I’ve come to finding a decent defense of the Committee’s selection. Needless to say, I remain unpersuaded.

UPDATE VIII: Spencer Ackerman elaborates on the “Don’t turn it down” argument:

But turning it down would be a slap in the face to an international community that is showing, in the most generous way possible, that it wants the U.S. back as a leading component of the global order. The issue is not Barack Obama. It’s what the president represents internationally: a symbol of an America that is willing, once again, to drive the international system forward, together, toward the humane positive-sum goals of peace and disarmament.

I’m struck by the vacuousness of this argument. Obama is a “symbol” of America’s “humane positive-sum goals?” This may all be true, but absent some tangible accomplishment, I don’t think it merits a Nobel freakin’ Peace Prize.

Also, let’s be clear about who Obama would be “insulting” if he politely declined. The “international community” didn’t decide to award Obama the Peace Prize; a few Norwegian committee members did. I think the world will understand if Obama declines the award after explaining that other nominees are more deserving of the Nobel Commmittee’s recognition than himself.

UPDATE IX: That said, I think Obama’s acceptance speech was about as classy and understated as you could expect under the circumstances (I’d like to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the White House speech-writer who got the call this morning). I think acknowledging his own deficiencies and framing the award as a call to action was a smart, powerful move. Here’s hoping he lives up to the Nobel Committee’s criteria.

UPDATE X: Wow – this award has provoked a bipartisan race to the bottom. Michael Ledeen wastes not time in suggesting that Obama “makes war more likely.” On the other side of the fence, esteemed co-blogger Mark passes along this gem from the DNC:

“The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists – the Taliban and Hamas this morning – in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize,” DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse said in a statement.

I’d like to take this opportunity to nominate Brad Woodhouse for the inaugural League of Ordinary Gentlemen ‘Douchebag of the Day’ award. Congrats, Brad – I’m told it’s an honor just to be nominated.

FINAL UPDATE: That’s all, folks. My take: the Nobel Committee should be panned and Obama should have declined, but given the circumstances, his acceptance speech was about as good as anyone could reasonably expect. As I said above, I sincerely hope we’re not talking about this all week.

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39 thoughts on “Turn It Down

  1. It strikes me as yet another “who isn’t George Bush? Let’s give it to him!” award in the vein of giving it to Al Gore.

    I see it as intended to be a pointed message to his predecessor (and assorted hangers-on) rather than an attempt to celebrate the new era of fluffyness that Obama has ushered us into.

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  2. If the President has the balls to turn this down, I will be EXTREMELY impressed and more than a little bit surprised. I think it would be a huge PR win for him here at home and with a very full domestic agenda, he needs American goodwill far more than that of Europe at the moment.

    After the complete embarrassment which were the Obamas’ two speeches in Denmark, I have been more than a little concerned that the President’s ego is getting to be a real liability. Declining this award would be a great step back towards reality.

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  3. This is Socialist Europe acknowledging the greatness, the wisdom, the truth of THE MAN!
    Eleven days in office and the NPP!!!
    Please, dude, don’t turn it down, please, please, please (in the words of the immortal, James Brown).

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  4. I had the same thought, but dismissed it immediately because it is unserious. In fact, if he wants to move on, the thing to do is accept it, take the hit, and then get on with the moving on. The bigger event, the prima donna move,the statement that his view of matters is the most important one, is to turn it down, much as I suspect he’d like to.

    You turn down this prize only if you have contempt for it; doing so is a statement of such contempt and can only be such. This is not a public award: the Nobel Committee decides who receives their awards. It is not up to the president of the United States to second guess their judgment. Accept and move on.

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  5. Instead of turning down the prize he ought to accept it on the condition that he give the acceptance speech in Islamabad and use the momentum leading up to that to make some peace related progress regarding Af/Pak or India/Pakistan nonproliferation or nonaggression pacts.

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  6. If he cares a damn about his domestic agenda he will turn it down. Very politely and humbly but he will need to turn it down. The only people it will impress are the peeps already in his collumn. The right wingers will froth and the undecideds will yawn and the leaners will likely lean away from him.

    His decision should make for a very interesting window into what is more important to him. Adulation or accomplishment.

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  7. I’m not concerned about the Nobel Committee — they can take it, they have before. I’m maybe a little concerned about the optics of the U.S. president turning it down, but as you are suggesting, it would probably endear him to may here and would be a good move by that measure. Depending on how it was done, he might avoid it being a contemptuous move, I’ll concede. If you look at the history of people turning down Nobels, it’s never because they second-guess the judgement; it’s always because of a principled belief about the nature of reward itself, or because they have contempt for the exercise.

    But none of that was my point. You said he should turn it down so we can move on. I say turning it down is the opposite of moving on. Turning it down is the ego-driven, self-aggrandizing, prima donna move that increases attention to himself and the award. He is not in control of this development; the low-key way to move on is to do the customary and gracious thing: accept politely (with a low-key speech) and go on about your business.

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    • We’ll see what he says momentarily, though. For the record, I agree the committee has marginalized and enfeebled itself with this selection. But they care little about our American opinions. This is a non-American award made for a non-American audience for explicitly political reasons. I was just reading where part of what explicitly guides them in this selection is not just a recognition of work that promotes peace, but also where possible to endeavor to strengthen the cause of peace by the conferral itself. That may be what they think they are doing by doing this. They may very well be grievously miscalculating, but then I do not move in those circles where the conferral of this award the Committee may think it could enhance our president’s clout in ways they think could advance the agenda they support. One thing this is not is a lifetime achievement award, and the Committee probably has the leeway in its bylaws and whatnot to do this. Nevertheless I still stand by the view I stated above — I think they are erring, even by their own lights. But I am not sure. It will definitely be interesting to see how he handles this. Perhaps he’ll stun us.

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      • You said, “For the record, I agree the committee has marginalized and enfeebled itself with this selection. ”

        I have seen this a lot on the tubes this morning, and for the record my continued reaction to this award is WTF?, but the more I read of international reaction, the sentiment should be amended that this award has marginalized and enfeebled itself with this selection IN THE EYES OF AMERICANS. Much of the international community, including former Peace Prize winners, appears to be positive.

        Of course it is as early in the “fallout” phase as it is in Obama’s presidency, but the only people in the international community who have expressed outrage are the Taliban and Hamas. Again, it is early and this could absolutely change. But the only people who seem to think this diminishes the Nobel committee are Americans who think the world is defined by our politics.

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        • That’s what I’m getting at where i say that i don’t move in the circles where the question of who gets the Peace Prize still has some significance. Maybe the members are perfect realists about the effects of this on the people who might still be influenced by it for what they consider the good, or maybe they’re perfect fools about it, I just have no idea. No doubt among the chattering classes here people regard it with disdain. I do about the “average man” here : maybe he’s just like, “Cool.” Who knows?

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  8. On second thought, he should accept the prize and mail it to John Bolton.

    I think people going “what the hell are they thinking” don’t quite appreciate the impact, symbolically and realistically, of transitioning from a United States that appointed a UN ambassador who’s primary cause in life was dissolving the UN to one that made UN ambassador a cabinet-level position.

    And, yeah, you’d have to have the PR acumen of the McClellan-vintage Bush White House to not be able to wind up with a positive spin on winning a Peace Prize without giving it back.

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    • “you’d have to have the PR acumen of the McClellan-vintage Bush White House to not be able to wind up with a positive spin on winning a Peace Prize without giving it back.’

      Right. This is not in fact a disaster.

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  9. Thanks for the updates Will.

    I just think the Nobel folks should ask the civilians whose families have been killed by drones and airstrikes in Afghanistan if they Obama deserves the Peace prize. Maybe the Nobel folks wanted to give Obama the prize before we could justifiably start calling the wars “Obama’s Wars.”

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    • Two words: Yasser Arafat. Two more: Henry Kissinger. This is the Nobel Peace Prize, not the World-Consensus-Most-Peace-Promoting-Person Peace Prize. They do things the Nobel way, according to Nobellian logic. Remember who Nobel was.

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  10. Can I make something clear? The prize has been awarded many times to people who have not yet accomplished specific goals for peace but rather have initiated the process. That doesn’t mean I like it. But it’s incredible the number of people who are lashing out at this without even a cursory understanding of the history of the prize.

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  11. Ugh. Opposition to this award is now akin to supporting terrorism? Crikey. What the hell is this, 2003?

    ““The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists – the Taliban and Hamas this morning – in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize,” DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse said in a statement.”

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  12. What do they do if he gets the two-state solution or reunites Korea (the good way)? If I’m Barack Obama I’m pissed that they sullied my Peace Prize this way.

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  13. “The great honour bestowed on me by the awarding of this prize can only, I believe, be understood as an encouragement to my political endeavours, not as a final judgement upon them.”

    The opening of Willy Brandt’s acceptance of the peace prize in 1971. As Freddie remarked 12, Obama’s award is in line with the history of the prize.

    A president who’s so adored that he is, by some peoples’ lights, unwisely awarded the Nobel Prize – or – a president who’s so toxic that even when proposing sensible reforms at the UN, allies have trouble sticking around?

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  14. Michael Steele must get today’s Douchebag of the Day award:

    “the Democrats and their international leftist allies want America made subservient to the agenda of global redistribution and control. And truly patriotic Americans like you and our Republican Party are the only thing standing in their way.”

    Though if you made him eligible, you might as well retire the award.

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