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.
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As the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote: "Never breathe an immoral atmosphere, unless in the attempt to purify it." Obama is trying to purify one group, the UN Human Rights Council. The body has long reflected the interests of its most autocratic nations, such as Cuba, China, and Saudi Arabia. He decided to let the US be elected to the body by the UN General Assembly this year, the first time for the US.
If the Nobel committee is correct, Obama is on track to reform this Council and perhaps finally get it to act on the human rights abuses of many of its own members. Can he do it? Or will the US instead be associated with the Council's soft touch for dictators?
And it's not only on human rights where the US and most other nations may differ. Washington is also often at odds with its European allies over the issue of promoting democracy in countries such as Georgia, Burma (Myanmar), and Ukraine.
Democracy and freedom are core values for the US. And after 9/11 especially, promoting those values in Muslim lands has become a stronger national interest. (Woodrow Wilson, champion of democracy promotion, is the last sitting US president to receive the peace prize.)
But Obama won't find the majority of nations backing that ideal. In fact, only 46 percent of UN member states are full-fledged democracies.
So more power to the new US president in earning this prize and as he tries to more closely engage with rogue states and wobbly allies. He is in a delicate dance between get-along and go-along, between good tactics and bad strategy.
Perhaps the Nobel committee might have waited a couple years to see the measure of Obama's actual success in blazing a new world order. But at the least, it has added momentum to this president's worthy hopes.