I nearly choked on my coffee when I heard. I checked the date. Nope, it’s not April 1st. Really? Did I misread that? Nope, they really have given the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. Really?? Once I had finally absorbed this strange bit of information, I sat and thought for a while. It was quite a lot to take in.
I checked the BBC website again, just to make sure. Yes, Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m not imagining things again. Or am I? This isn’t one of trickygirl’s ‘funny turns’, is it? Perhaps I should sit down and have a nice cup of hot sweet tea. That’s good for shock.
In the midst of all this confusion, two small but perfectly formed and highly pertinent thoughts managed to crystalize in my poor old politically-addled brain.
I mean, it’s beyond obvious that Obama is a hell of a lot saner, a hell of a lot more sensible, and a hell of a lot more intelligent than the previous resident of the White House, but I had no idea they were giving out Nobel Peace Prizes for simply Not Being George W Bush these days, as destructive as the Shrubby One’s eight-year reign over America clearly was.
Obama was inaugurated in, what, January? Which means he’s been in power for a little less than ten months. In political terms, that’s no time at all. Politics, and particularly the bureaucratic side of things, works on a completely different timescale to the rest of us; one that deals in units of time that would make a century seem like a blink of an eye – which is a concept that many people find very difficult to grasp, including a large number of politicians.
Like Obama, you can have the brilliant ideas and immaculately conceived policy documents, but you won’t be getting anywhere until the cogs of the political bureaucracy decide that the time is right to start creaking into motion. Whenever that might be.
In the greater, Washington-style scheme of things, ten months is barely enough time to order and get delivered a new carpet for the Oval Office and to choose that promised puppy for Malia and Sasha, let alone to finally resolve the highly controversial, complex and difficult military and political situations America has managed to get itself embroiled itself in, both at home and abroad.
So Republican (and other) accusations that Obama is a man of words and not actions could seem a little unfair in this context – although it is glaringly obvious that – thus far – he has not (and not by a long chalk) achieved enough to merit the Nobel Peace Prize. Not in a year when the nominees apparently also included the Chinese pro-democracy activist and dissident Hu Jia and the long-suffering Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, anyway.
If Obama really had managed to pull America and the Middle East up by its bootstraps, if he really had managed to resolve all the unpleasant and dangerous ‘issues’ his predecessor had kindly left behind in his in-tray when he was booted out of office, if he really had managed all of that in ten months – then yes, Barack Obama would now probably be the most worthy Nobel Peace Prize winner ever.
But he hasn’t. Obviously.
So what is going on here?
Back in November 2008, during the emotional outpourings that greeted Obama’s historic election victory, I, and many other commentators on both sides of the Atlantic – although pleased to see Bush go – were concerned that amid all the hysteria, a bit of basic political common sense was being lost; lost by Obama’s supporters, and by the opposition. He could talk the talk – but could he walk it like he talked it? Expectations of what the new president could achieve were running way too high. Even in this age of instant gratification, no president (not even Obama) could have met this burden of expectation. Not immediately, anyway. And that’s when your problems start.
Because it is all very well to give inspiring and memorable speeches to the people of America, outlining all the brilliant, healing things you are going to do for your deeply damaged country and for the rest of the world – but until you have been given enough time in office to actually achieve even just one of these things (or not achieve any of these things, as the case may be), you should expect neither brickbats nor plaudits. But you will get them, although you are always more likely to get more of the former than the latter in this kind of situation, because the electorate is not and has never been famed for its long-term patience with its representatives on Capitol Hill (or anywhere else for that matter – voters are the same the world over).
However, under such circumstances, you certainly shouldn’t be given an award that has previously been won by the likes of Nelson Mandela, Amnesty International, Aung San Suu Kyi, Eli Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, Lech Walesa and Médicins Sans Frontières*. Not yet, anyway. Not until you’ve really proved yourself as a real man of peace, a real political force to be reckoned with. Not until your predecessor’s wars are truly ended.
And certainly not at the very time that you are contemplating the idea of sending more troops into Afghanistan, having already dithered your way into an almost unworkable domestic situation over your much-needed and controversial health care reforms.
No wonder your domestic opponents are making much mirth over your Nobel Prize. It’s almost too easy.
The international response to this unusual award has been… Well, I think ‘slightly gobsmacked’ just about covers it. Add to that a side order of ‘WTF?’, and season the whole thing well with a sprinkling of the usual sycophantic suspects trying to raise their own smug profiles by associating themselves with the latest shining golden boy of international politics. Opinion is certainly not unanimous on this one.
However, most people do seem to agree on the basic fact that this is an award given in the hope of future achievement, rather than for actual, concrete, visible success in bringing peace. Isn’t it nice to see a politician being honoured for what he says he intends to do rather than what he has actually done? Doesn’t that make a refreshing change? Or something.
The official citation excitedly mentions how Obama has “captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future” through “strengthen[ing] international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, which doesn’t really tell us anything about anything – and particularly doesn’t tell us anything about what he’s actually supposed to have done to earn this somewhat prestigious bit of back-slapping.
Oh, yes, here we are. Apparently, we’re to pay particular attention to his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons”. Now, none of us can dispute that this is indeed a noble and worthy cause and one to be applauded. But how likely is it that this vision makes it into reality? How likely is it that this will actually happen? Not while paranoid states still stockpile nuclear weapons simply because America or their next door neighbour/worst enemy also do – and the next door neighbour/America stockpile theirs simply because the paranoid states do. It’s going to take some very, very, very special and very, very, very tactful international diplomacy to sort out this sprawling mess of nuclear paranoia and oneupmanship.
(It has long puzzled me why any nation might conceivably need thousands of nuclear warheads anyway. One would be more than enough. Talk about literal overkill. It’s like ‘my dad’s bigger than your dad’, only with intercontinental ballistic missiles and shouty military types in silly hats. Surely the money wasted on all this could be used to pay for something else, like…. oh, I don’t know, maybe universal health care or something?)
Up to it, Obama? You do realise how much of a long, hard slog this is going to be? But you don’t really have any other option – because peace itself is now what is expected of you as 2009 Nobel laureate for Peace.
Personally, it does seem to me that Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the strength of a few damn good speeches, a lot of convincing political good intentions to end war and restore prosperity, and – most important of all – the relief felt by the entire world that Barack Obama has actually achieved something historic and of vital importance with the very existence of his presidency; relief that he’s not George W Bush.
I think I should give the final word on this matter to Michael Moore, a man who has never knowingly been backward in coming forward when it comes to the faults and foibles of the American government. As is so annoyingly often the case, he has said it best – again:
“Congratulations President Obama on the Nobel Peace Prize – Now Please Earn It!”
He’s got a point.
* However, the Nobel Peace Prize has also been won by some even more distinctly controversial types over the decades, including Henry Kissinger (!!!), FW de Klerk, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres. Such controversial awards arguably cheapen the prize, no matter how many deserving laureates there have been before and since. Oh, and did you know that Gandhi was never awarded the Peace Prize, despite being nominated five times? Political expediency, anyone?