Some people would have you believe Americans should be embarrassed that President Obama was chosen Friday to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Far from it, they should be proud.
For the award says as much about the stature of this nation as it does about its elected leader. The award says who is chosen as America’s president matters a great deal to the rest of the world.
That Obama was chosen for this honor only nine months into his tenure is more evidence of the impact that his election alone has already had globally. The hope that was sparked with Obama’s election in November has stirred people across the planet.
Now, that doesn’t sit too well with those who occupied the White House prior to Obama. After all, the Bush administration worked for peace and nuclear disarmament, too. But Bush’s our-way-or-the-highway approach didn’t win international friends.
So, you have Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele actually calling Obama’s award “unfortunate.” And former United Nations ambassador John R. Bolton saying the award was “another reflection of the politicization of the Peace Prize.”
Bolton, actually, is right. Of all the Nobels, the Peace Prize is the only one not selected by experts in an area. That’s because the Norwegian delegates intend to send a political message when they choose a Peace Prize recipient.
Sometimes, politics can get in the way. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, was nominated five times but never got the Peace Prize. But more often than not, the Nobel committee meets the directive of Albert Nobel to recognize “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.”
Think of Obama in Prague as he asked the world to reduce its nuclear weapons; in Cairo as he asked Muslims to follow Islam’s peaceful tenets; in Accra as Ghanians marveled that a man with African roots had become president of the United States.
Now, even Obama admits that hope and promise will carry you only so far. He knows there are others with more concrete achievements toward peace who could have been recognized. “I do not deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize,” he said.
But having received the honor, he says it will be motivation to fulfill some of the dreams that his election birthed around the world. That’s a tall order. This Peace Prize winner is trying to finish wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while contending with the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. More blood will be shed.
The rest of America should see the president’s award as a message to us that the world craves U.S. leadership but wants it to be offered by a partner who listens, not a soloist who can’t be bothered with other points of view. The world sees that type of leader in Obama, and that’s good.