Promoting World Affairs

Great expectations

In Afghanistan, Civil Society, Foreign Policy, Israel, The United States on October 12, 2009 at 7:36 am

I decided to wait to blog my personal thoughts regarding Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 until it became apparent the nature of the reaction. I had an idea and it seems that my own perception seemed to be correct.

Much of the rhetoric is that the committee that awarded the prize was rash and mistaken as, according to the critics, Obama has no real accomplishments in his first 9 months as President that warrant such a prestigious honor. Furthermore, they see him as turning into a puppet of the international community, or to put it bluntly, being in Europe’s pocket. Having foreseen this reaction, Obama himself was very cautious when delivering his speech about receiving the award. He stated that he was both surprised and humbled by receiving such an award and viewed the reward not as “a recognition of [his] own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”

Let’s be frank. Obama is not in the pocket of the Europeans, indeed it’s quite the opposite. Obama has large popularity outside of America’s borders, which strengthens his position on American foreign policy and does not by any means weaken it. Politicians abroad will feel more pressure to side with the U.S. on policies, even controversial ones such as the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, Iran, North Korea, and NATO engagement in Afghanistan. To state otherwise is prosperous as we’ve already seen the consequences of acting in the opposite way during George W. Bush’s presidency. Obama has been rebuilding America’s political soft power and him receiving the Nobel Prize will quicken this process.

That being said, it cannot be ignored that there are challenges that he will face, most notably from the radical opposition that has been very outspoken against his efforts to reform health care. There is a large anti-European element in the United States. This will never change. Fareed Zakaria stated it best, contributing to Anderson Cooper’s AC360 program on CNN, that it’s never a great thing for a President of the United States to be popular in France. Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize will without a doubt increase this perception of fear. That said, it’s obvious that the committee in Norway decided to make this years award a political one. It’s apparent that Obama does not have many accomplishments that would deserve him such a prize, rather the decision was a way to mitigate foreign opposition to Obama’s endeavor of working closer with the United Nations, fostering cooperation between countries, and to allow a resurgence of Wilsonism in the international arena.

The committee, however, may have misread the situation. Obama is in need of some good news, but not to the outside world, but to regular Americans themselves. Pushing through Congress one of the most controversial pieces of legislature since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has cost him large amounts of political capital from his own party, capital that he will need if he wants to tackle, as he termed it, the war of necessity that is Afghanistan. Another consequence of awarding such a prize at a premature date is the perception of the Nobel Prize itself to Americans as not being one that is awarded based on true merit, but rather as a political tool or an attempt from Europe to directly influence American foreign policy.

The White House is well aware of these issues, and the approach that has surfaced is one of cautiousness and constraint. Regardless of these hinderances and controversies, at the end of the day this will be a major boost to Obama’s attempt at transforming the international system and putting the United States on a firm foothold as a conduit for such change. The major challenge he will face is the added pressure that has been put on him out of the expectation that he is in the position to make drastic changes in the world, where if he fails, not only will his popularity further plummet within the United States but outside of it as well.

  1. My own knee-jerk reaction when I heard the news on the radio was something in the realm of “WHAT?!?” I thought it was clearly premature. Then came the realization that instead of being proud that America was once again a place the rest of the world could look up to for its values and ideals, the opposition would pout and moan and find ways to tie this into Obama’s supposed “socialism”. They certainly didn’t disappoint on that front…

    However, the more I think about it, the more I think the prize is deserved. The Nobel Peace Prize has a history of being used not necessarily to reward results, but to reward intentions and genuine effort, and to build momentum for a cause those guys in Sweden thought worthy. Rachel Maddow cites a few examples in this video (, and if you get past the snarky I’m-a-vindicated-liberal routine, she’s got a point.

    But deserved or not isn’t really the point anymore. I don’t think it’s gonna give Obama too much trouble domestically. It gave the pundits something to talk about for a day, it made the supporters feel a bit warmer inside after all the health care “debate” ugliness and now, people have moved on. That fringe margin of die-hard opposition who is still convinced Obama doesn’t constitutionally qualify to be president was always going to protest anyway, with this or something else. Unfortunately though, I don’t think it’s going to give him that much help internationally either, namely on the Middle East. There’s already been 2 peace prizes awarded for such efforts that I can think of (Carter, Arafat/Rabin/Peres), and if anything, the problem is getting worse… As for his international popularity, it will hinge on Iraq and Afghanistan certainly. For the Middle East, since everyone has failed before him, I think expectations are quite low.

    • I do agree with you on all points, however I must point out that the Peace Prizes awarded to Carter, Araft/Rabin/Peres etc, were awarded after they made some gains in the process, most notably normalizing relations with Egypt. The prize in 2009 was awarded only on the intention by Obama that he was going to make it his priority in the FIRST year of his presidency. This is the key reason why I think it will give a good boost to the process. Though as is the case in this long drawn out process, been frustrating at the fault of both sides. Obama needs to stay on the ball and not let Health Care or the War in Afghanistan divert his attention TOO much. And that brings me to my last point, or rather my wish, is that although I do think him being awarded the prize will help him more than hurt him, we can’t let it be too much of a distraction, or give any room for patting people on the back. The prize was awarded out of his intentions and out of the optimism that he will make some progress. And that mustn’t be forgotten.

  2. Oh, and to make another statement regarding domestic politics. It might not do too much harm, but the radicals will jump on it quickly and hard. Ratings on Fox News will go up, radicals will get media attention, because such people do, and it will be a distraction away from the issues that are important, i.e. Health Care and the war in Afghanistan. There’s a lot to blame here, but I can’t help but put my finger on the media for taking the bait and moving attention away from what’s important.

  3. Re: this, read this column of groundbreaking naïveté by Thomas L. Friedman who recycled every staple of cheap cable-news patriotism for the NY Times. Someone was clearly in a rush to get something, anything, written this week. (Me, tough?)

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