Monday, October 12, 2009
Most of the commentary I have read on our young President's winning of the Nobel peace prize has stressed the dumbness of the decision. How could the prize be given to someone who hasn't really accomplished much yet? He has reset the tone of American diplomacy, some might even say disastrously so, but tone is one thing and achievement another.
These criticisms obviously have a point. Obama is not Ghandi or Dr. King or even Jimmy Carter, who spent many years promoting a peace which passethed many of our understandings, before he got the prize. Nonetheless, I think giving the prize to Obama was a shrewd move, well calculated to influence events in a direction the Nobel Peace Prize Committee would like to see. My thinking is this. Any observer of politics can see that Obama is rather a vain man. It's not an uncommon fault among world leaders. He seems to care deeply what others think of him. More than most of us would, Obama is likely to feel now that he has to live up to being a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He's already President of the US; now he has to live down, in an odd way, having been given this prize. He has to negate the talk that he was a ridiculously undeserving recipient of it. It will look particularly ridiculous now if he sends more troops to Afghanistan, bombs Iran, or does many of the other things that might promote the security of the US, but won't be viewed as particularly peace-loving, especially by the opinion makers in the international peace community, which is against even those wars that are probably a good idea to fight.
You might say a President should not allow himself to be influenced in this way. Easier said than done, and Obama is probably more vulnerable to this sort of influence than any President we've had for quite a while. It's a rare young person who is able to see the extreme silliness of a handful of Norwegian ex-ministers having anything especially valuable to say about international security policy. You'd be better off asking them where to find the warmest sort of mittens. But my guess is Obama will be hard pressed not to take the Prize seriously. How many of us can look at a prize we have won and say, what a lot of nonsense? Other people, sure, but our own prizes are either deserved or prescient. Egos are powerful things. When Obama is thinking late at night, if he ever does that, that silly medal will be sitting on his mantel staring at him, asking him what Gandhi would do, and the answer is not going to be, blow them to smithereens, even when that is the right answer.
The Peace Prize Committee was probably smart enough to figure this out. More than that, they were apparently willing to make themselves look like idiots in order to do something clever, that is, manipulate a man who for all his strengths, evinces a certain shallowness of character. Those darn Norwegians.
Of course, if you really wanted to give somebody a prize for keeping the peace, you should have given one to Ronald Reagan. He should have the peace prize named after him. As you may recall, he won the Cold War, in which a vicious totalitarian empire, backed by a gigantic army and daunting nuclear arsenal, threatened to take over the world or destroy it trying. Reagan did this by a combination of scaring the bejesus out of our enemy while at the same time negotiating with them. But as the Gipper was fond of saying, anything is possible so long as you don't care who gets the credit.