Monday, October 12, 2009

A Little Clarity on Obama's Nobel Win

When I first wrote about why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, the reactions to his win had only just begun. Since then I've read about more people who are foaming at the mouth about Obama winning this prize, and some of these people are progressives who say they support him. In essence, they feel Obama hasn't done anything yet to "deserve" to win the prize. He's only made promises, they say, and the Nobel Peace Prize committee has "lost credibility" by awarding the prize to this President of the United States.

To some of them, such as some commenting on a post a BlogHer, I've pointed to the video in my first post of Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland explaining why U.S. President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. He named two other people who won the Nobel Peace Prize for starting a process or when they were at the beginning of their work before anyone could see success. In particular Jagland named Willy Brandt and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Williy Brandt won in 1971 as the "Federal Republic of Germany, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, initiator of. West Germany's Ostpolitik, embodying a new attitude towards Eastern Europe and East Germany."
In 1969, Brandt was elected chancellor and retained the post in the general election of 1972. His main policy was that of 'Ostpolitik', as he tried to create closer ties between West and East Germany and improve relations with Poland and the Soviet Union. In Germany, Brandt's 'Ostpolitik' was controversial, but in 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his work.
Jagland said that the world did not see the result of Brandt's efforts until the Berlin Wall fell "many, many years later" (1989).

Gorbachev, who's congratulated Obama, won in 1990 "for his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community." When he won he had been the President of the USSR for 5 years. Obama, of course, has been in office for less than 9 months. However, like Obama, the former Russian president won for changing the political climate.

Gorbachev wrote to Obama:
I congratulate you on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I am convinced that it is the right decision, which significantly reinforces our family of Nobel laureates. Your efforts have helped to bring about a significant change in the international climate. I feel close affinity to your vision of the global world and of relations among nations. Implementing it will require strong will, statesmanship and mastery of communication. It will also require support from Americans and from men and women of good will throughout the world.

The decision of the Nobel Committee is a recognition of the significant role the United States of America plays in world affairs and of the hopes people are placing in the United States President. Therefore your success, Mr. President, is in the interest of all those who want to see a secure and just peace in the XXI century.

I wish you success in the difficult and noble work that has now been recognized by such a high honor. (Letter at Gorbachev Foundation website)
From what I've read and as I said on Twitter, most people seem to know little about why Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded. When I heard of Obama's win, my first thought was what has he done? However, the more I learn about this prize, the more I see that it's sometimes awarded to send a message, to cheer on those who profess the same ideals held by the Nobel committee and who are distinguished enough and have enough influence to change the world. The prize may be seen as a motivator to the recipient to stay on the path and a challenge to current world leaders to follow the same path. So, think of the Nobel Peace Prize as a beacon for peace, telling the world to "Please go this way."

From commentary I've read and heard on Obama's win, I think a lot of people think the Nobel Peace Prize is some kind of Jesus award, that the person receiving it should have performed a life-long sacrifice of some sort. However if you read the list of past recipients, you'll find names of leaders whose only accomplishment was brokering a peace treaty in difficult times; they were not the only people involved in that process and sometimes the treaty fell apart later.

Or as I've said before, you associate a Martin Luther King, Jr. with the prize. However, King did not win for laying down his life. He won in 1964, and was not a legislator. He didn't broker a peace deal. He created the climate for social justice legislation. His movement, the Civil Rights movement, was one built mostly of inspiration in the wake of his words and the sorrow of inequality and it pushed political leaders to act. Yes, he met with leaders, but only the leaders could make any part of King's dream a reality. King was primarily an inspirational speaker with a vision.

Still, some historians have said that it wasn't respect for King and his work that pressured politicians into signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but fear of the violence that could erupt via Malcolm X if they did not respond to King's nonviolent efforts. So again, what did King actually do? He motivated people through speeches, through words. He mobilized a movement. Consider that unlike Gorbachev's Nobel page at, King's page doesn't even list why he won the award in 1964. It's sort of understood that he won for his stance, his words, his ideals, and how those word and ideals moved others to act. He won for being himself and having the courage to inspire others under extremely difficult circumstances to do the right thing.

Yes, he died, but he received his Nobel Peace Prize as the youngest recipient to date in '64, and did not make that ultimate sacrifice until four years later. The Nobel committee is not psychic. They did not award King for dying, but it seems some who object to Obama's win think it takes something as big as death to win.

It seems that some people think the Nobel Peace Prize should always be awarded to a Mother Theresa, someone who wins after years of laying down a life. I think all these people should stop whining and write the Nobel Peace Prize committee, tell them how to run that prize if they don't like who gets it. I'm sure their letters will go in the box with those who protested Yasser Arafat's win in 1994. He went to the table with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, but prior to his seeking to create peace in the Middle East, he was known as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, not exactly a peaceful group. He received the award after he showed he would work for peace.

And what about these two?
Woodrow Wilson and Leon Bourgeois: When the American and French heads of state received their prizes in 1919 and 1920, respectively, both appeared to be visionary statesmen. Wilson had gone to Versailles and persuaded his French and British allies to take a far more moderate approach to defeated Germany than they favored. On top of that, he had brought the world's states together under the umbrella of the League of Nations, with Bourgeois serving as president of the league's council. Unfortunately, neither the Treaty of Versailles nor the League of Nations turned out as the Nobel committee must have hoped; Wilson himself was disappointed by the final treaty, which awarded territory to imperial powers rather than rendering the nation-states eventually wrought by World War II. (While the treaty was more lenient than it could have been, it also humiliated Germany, much to Hitler's benefit.) The league, for its part, was impotent to stop the rise of Hitler, the militarization of Germany, and Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. (Newsweek)
It appears President Wilson got the award for an idea, his ideals, and his persuasion skills. (To all those harping on how long Obama's been in office, if the award were based on length of time in the office of President of the United States, then FDR, Reagan, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton should have gotten one.)

As we learn if we read more about the prize, sometimes people win just for doing their jobs as peace keepers. The award doesn't necessarily go to any humanitarian, any philanthropist, any religious leader, or any politician who's been a good boy. There are always people in the world who deserve a peace prize, but they don't all get one. They must have broad, visible influence.

For instance, Ralph Bunche, a brilliant man, accomplished difficult tasks, but ultimately he was doing his job for the UN, negotiating a peace deal, just being who he is.

And we still don't have peace in the Middle East.

See all winners names here. Those who win begin as nominees. Don't you wonder who nominated Barack Obama?

If the Nobel Peace Prize committee has lost credibility based on to whom it gives this prestigious award and why, then the Nobel folks lost credibility long before now based on some of the reasoning people use to denounce Obama's winning. And so, they declare the award means nothing. To those who think the award is meaningless, I ask, "Why are you still bitching about it? If the Nobel Peace Prize means nothing, then let it go. Just say Obama got a nothing award and since you agree that he's done nothing to deserve the Nobel, then the two are well-matched. Why are you still yapping?"

But I like the logic of one BlogHer commenter:
In my opinion, there is a strong reason why President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was something almost imperceptible, but I'm sure I heard it, and felt it myself. You might remember it yourself.

It was the almost audible collective sigh that very nation in the world gave when they heard he won the United States presidential election.

You know how satisfying a sigh can be, especially one of that magnitude. A sigh of relief is one of the best feelings the world can experience. The tension is the world seemed to drop dramatically. So if one man can do that for the entirety of the world, if he can make it sigh, then by golly give him the prize! (Ellen Belen)
Yes, if you recall how the world went wild with happiness when he won the election, you might understand what she said and why perhaps he should have gotten the award after all.


le0pard13 said...

Well done, Nordette. You've laid out the facts regarding this in a measured and thoughtful manner. And, covered a good many of the examples for this award in a tone others should emulate. I especially like your:

"Why are you still bitching about it? If the Nobel Peace Prize means nothing, then let it go. Just say Obama got a nothing award and since you agree that he's done nothing to deserve the Nobel, then the two are well-matched. Why are you still yapping?"

Yours and this one from Thomas P.M. Barnett are the ones I'm going to recommend people to read regarding this. In TPMB's WPR article, his last sentence culminates with another great recommendation:

And as for Americans, the true audience for this prize's message? I think we should take our cue from our leader on this one, and simply say, Thank you.

Thanks for this.

Good and plenty said...

Great post and thanks for the history. Most people don't know history and in the blogosphere a lot of people make knee-jerk reactions based on their feelings not analysis. So for some, having the history of others who've been awarded because of starting a process, will not matter or sway their opinion.
My friend Pattie always says, "Don't hate me 'cause you ain't me."

Good and plenty said...

Great post - I like the history and analysis. I would like to note that those who oppose Obama's win, will not care that others have one for being catalysts for a peace process...for getting things started.

Hateration. As my friend, Pattie, says, "Don't hate me 'cause you ain't me."

RiPPa said...

I think for most progressives the issue of he hasn't done anything deserving relates to the war machine.

Troops are still in Iraq inspite of his promise to bring them home AND the insistence by the Iraqi gov't that they leave.

Then there's the issue of the "surge" in Afghanistan. Now, as far as reshaping foreign policy and creating dialogue? He has accomplished that; Iran is now open to weapon inspectors, and the missle shield in Asia is down.

But yet and still, there's the issue of the current wars this country is involved in. There has been much anti-war protests since he has been in office. But some how they haven't made it onto the mainstream news cycle.

Yes, often the award is given with the hope of drawing attention to a cause. With that in mind, lets see if Obama does anything different or continue what Bush has started - two wars which the majority of the population is against.

lilalia said...

Thanks for the post. I like le0pard13's observation about "in a measured and thoughtful manner", for that not only summarizes well the tone of your post, but also the tone in which the Nobel Prize was given.

I think there is an aspect to the present knee-jerk reactions of various politicians and media folk that shows very well how incapable they are of seeing your country and your countrymen (Obama) in the light that international communities see them. Their lack of information, coupled with their willing to express their opinions at a drop of a dime, shows a complete lack of measured and thoughtful manner.