Obama's Nobel Peace Prize hangs with a heavy weight
Commended for trying more US cooperation with the world, he must be wary of also compromising US ideals.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Congratulations to him, yes, but aren't most awards supposedly for results?
Not this one.
Like many previous Peace Prizes, the purpose of this award isn't to recognize past success but to support someone's current efforts that the Nobel committee particularly likes.
And what does the Norway-based group like about Mr. Obama's approach, less than a year into his presidency?
It is his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." In other words, he is being commended for improving on the process of everyone getting along in the world.
That is indeed a worthy desire, and Obama's style of leadership is certainly suited to it. He inspires by playing up commonalities rather than differences. He reaches out to neglected groups. He seeks to reform rather than isolate international institutions that aren't working.
Unlike any previous US president, for example, Obama chaired a special session of the United Nations Security Council. He laid his prestige on the line by convening a summit last month on the issue of ridding the earth of nuclear weapons, a cause that was the second commendation for the peace prize.
Many critics may see this prize as simply a slap by European elite on George W. Bush for neglecting their interests and their fear of a superpower untethered by global constraints. But that criticism ignores a deeper concern in this award – and one that Obama himself may be all too aware of.
The concern is this: How much does the US simply get along with the rest of the world without also going along with practices that rub against its own ideals?
Cooperating in diplomacy is fine until it steps on the principles that have led the United States to become the world's natural leader – in ideas, economy, culture, and global stability.
Take, for instance, the notion implied in the prize's praise for "cooperation." Must the US bend to the interests of a majority of the world's peoples? Such an idea is now widely popular, and summed up in pundit Fareed Zakaria's concept of a "post-American" world.
One powerful institution that represents the vast majority of the globe's population is the Group of 77 nations. This club now includes 132 of the UN's 192 members. It ranges from Brazil to Indonesia to India, with China as a close ally. Yet the G-77 positions are often at odds with those of the US, and its views often dominate the UN.