Flying on wings of hopes and promises

2009-10-12 09:00

I WOKE up, read the New York Times website and thought I had come to the site instead. I hit refresh. Still there: “Obama Wins Nobel for Diplomacy.” Maybe this is one of my weird work-related dreams, I thought. Better close my eyes and wake up again in the real world. Five minutes later... still no dice.

Yes, Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. My first reaction was that this was going to be a test of how much crazier Orly Taitz and the Republican Anti-Christers can get. Not only does this prove that Obama is a socialist Svengali – because he got the Norwegians to vote for him, probably as part of some UN takeover of the US – it also proves that Obama is greedy. Anti-Christs are so like that; they want everything right now (and losing the 2016 ­Olympics was just a red herring).

But back in reality I’m still a little bewildered. It’s as if the Nobel committee gave Obama the award for behaving like a normal American president instead of like a clueless, corrupt cowboy.

The committee insists this is not an aspirational prize; no carrot to make the US and its president better neighbours.

Thobjorn Jagland, the former prime minister of Norway who chaired this year’s committee, insists that it’s for work Obama has already accomplished and for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”.

“We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future but for what he has done in the ­previous year,” Jagland said.

The announcement, which takes special note of Obama’s anti-nuke position, says he has “created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the UN and other international institutions can play. Thanks to Obama’s initiative the US is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.”

However, in my view these sentiments are aspirational. Obama does not deserve the prize – yet. Yes, he has said he wants a world free of nuclear weapons, but as Jonathan Schell has pointed out, he has a long way to go before that vision becomes reality. That path must include the US senate ratifying the comprehensive test ban treaty and even a fully defensice position from the White House can’t guarantee that will happen soon. Then there’s the matter of Obama’s multilateralism and partnering with the UN. As Naomi Klein pointed out, the Obama ­administration, like its predecessor, boycotted the UN Durban anti-racism conference, using the flap over language on Israel-Palestine as an excuse to duck the actual issues about racial justice the conference cautiously raised. As for climate change, Obama is yet to commit to attending the December climate change conference in Copenhagen. And if that jaunt is going to succeed in reducing carbon emissions the US will have to bring a lot more to the ­table than it is currently offering.
I could go on: fully closing the Guantánamo prison and restoring civil liberties and compliance with the Geneva Convention; ­negotiating with Iran in good faith; withdrawing from Iraq and, of course, withdrawal from Afghanistan. Escalating or even maintaining the status quo there would alone discredit this award in ­history’s eyes. Obama got a nice vote of confidence from the Norwegians for his promises, but now he has to actually earn the Nobel with his deeds. – The Nation Kim is a senior editor for The ­Nation magazine.

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