It was just a couple of weeks ago that my husband and I were discussing President Obama’s beleaguered situation, over the Sunday papers. The right was going nuts over perceived and imagined horrors of the proposed health care reform; the left was dismayed over Guantanamo prison closing delays; the Israelis were digging in their heels with respect to settlement expansion; and a new nuclear facility had been discovered in Iran.
“Dilettante!” “Narcissist!” “Traitor!” “Communist!” were words freely bandied around, as Obama struggled to implement his policies in a spirit of cooperation, bipartisanship, and consensus.
“That guy deserves the Nobel Peace Prize!” I said in dismay.
Little did I know the Prize committee was eavesdropping that day.:)
Yesterday’s news must have caused the premature demise of dozens of computer keyboards, as coffee went spraying out of reader’s mouths when they saw the headlines. It almost seemed like a hoax; indeed, one White House staffer is said to have asked if it was April 1st, when informed of the momentous news. Conflicting emotions warred in the hearts of the even the most devoted Obama supporters. Too premature, was the consensus. My Indian American friends muttered darkly about the committee’s snub of Mahatma Gandhi, surely a much more deserving candidate. Of course, conservative heads nearly exploded, and the reactions from the American right-wing were the comic element in a very confusing day, as the US and the world tried to deal with the news.
The dust has settled today, as even the most vicious critics of the president came to the belated realization that it is highly unpatriotic to carp about such an honor. One State Department official’s comment puts it in perspective-“Certainly from our standpoint, this gives us a sense of momentum — when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes.”
And that is perhaps as good as explanation as any as to why Obama was given the prize so early in his Presidency. We in the US perhaps do not realize how close the world was to the brink of Armageddon before Obama won the election last year; the war in Iraq seemed endless; there were rumblings among the American neocons about the next war with Iran; the Middle East situation looked highly destabilized; the global economy was in tatters; and the US’s refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty had removed any credibility it had with respect to climate change.
Yes, Obama may not have signed any significant legislation yet. “What has he done so far?” is the familiar refrain. But here’s what the world looks like after the short 9 months that he’s been in office-
– There is renewed hope for negotiations with rogue nations like Iran.
– There is improved cooperation with Russia after the missile program was modified.
– A climate change bill is in the works in the US, giving impetus to similar efforts around the world
-The global economy is sending out green shoots of recovery.
It is easy to criticize Obama as the guy who just makes pretty speeches, but words have power. There is a sense today, that mistakes notwithstanding, the most powerful nation in the world has its heart in the right place; that the direction the world is taking is the right one. By repeating the mantra of cooperation and consensus over and over, this President has sought to reassure the rest of the world that America is no longer an empire-builder; by admitting America’s mistakes, he is opening the door to a new era of global coaction.
The dynamics of both internal American politics and overseas realpolitik may not permit quick decision-making, but as Obama himself put it, the kind of change he was expected to deliver required him to steer a massive ship; the directional changes can only be slow and incremental, but they will happen.
The Peace Prize committee may have jumped the gun on this one, but the more I think about it, the more I see their point of view. This is a man who has de-fanged Al Qaeda by welcoming and acknowledging the right of Muslims to self-governance; within the US, despite intractable resistance from the opposition and special interests, he has managed to get several bills passed to correct some of the damage done by the previous president.
Yes, these efforts have not always been perfect, and there is much, much more work to do, but the sincerity is unquestionable, as is the genuine desire to make the world a better place. 9 months ago the world was in cardiac arrest; perhaps the prize was given to Obama for being the “defibrillator.”
And before you mock the Prize committee too much, just imagine what would have happened had John McCain won. Then take a deep breath and let the sense of unfairness out as you exhale.