The Norwegian Nobel committee has done President Obama no favor by awarding him the 2009 Peace Prize.
The committee clearly bestowed the prize for Obama’s intentions, not his achievements - since nominations were closed on Feb. 1, 2009, 12 days after he took office. At bottom this was an effort to boost Obama’s efforts to promote “a new climate in international politics” and to abandon the unilateralism that characterized the presidency of George W. Bush. The award openly aims at encouraging Obama to live up to his campaign promises to pursue diplomacy and dialogue and a world without nuclear weapons.
Yet nothing more clearly demonstrates the gap between Nobel committee hopes and on-the-ground reality than the fact that the prize was announced on a day when Obama was holding high level White House talks about future strategy in Afghanistan.
Obama may seek dialogue, and may even encourage Afghan reconciliation talks with low and medium level Taliban. However, senior Taliban leaders and Al Qaeda aren’t interested in bargaining. They are interested in taking over Afghanistan, setting up an Islamic emirate, and using it to destabilize Pakistan and get their hands on nuclear weapons.
The Peace Prize may enhance Obama’s appeal to rational actors in the international community who want to play by global rules. But those whose minds are focused solely on narrow national goals, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, have little interest in behaving like good global citizens. Those gripped by ideology, such as al-Qaeda and the Iranian regime, have little interest in multilateral institutions. They want to create their own rules.
The Nobel Award won’t make the Israelis and Palestinians more willing to compromise, nor will it make Indians and Pakistanis more likely to settle differences over Kashmir. Nor will it overcome U.S. domestic political squabbles over the economic costs of combating global warming.
It will symbolize global aspirations that President Obama can’t meet, for reasons that often lie beyond his control, and reflect the mess he inherited from his predecessor.
At best the Nobel will burnish Obama’s aura abroad and may help him on the margins; at worst, it will serve as an awkward reminder that the world’s inherent violence and imperfections aren’t always susceptible to dialogue, even though it’s worth trying.. Despite admirable intentions, Obama has to operate in the real world.
Read more of my comments on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize in my column on Sunday at go.philly.com/trudyrubin