Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama has evoked an explosion of opinions – some for, some against. I have to admit that I was caught by surprise by the reactions. I expected the Rush Limbaughs of the world to excoriate President Obama and the committee that awarded the president the prize, but I assumed that the rest of the world would applaud.
I was wrong. Many were surprisingly negative, saying that the awarding of the prize to President Obama was inappropriate and undeserved.
I have no desire to respond to these views, but I do want to throw my own two cents into the conversation.
The vast majority of people ache for the easing of tensions, an end to violence, and the normalization of relations between states. They want dialogue and negotiation, not war and threats. They would like to see a concerted and cooperative effort to address global challenges. And they hope that the U.S. government will choose a constructive role in world affairs.
The new president has embraced and articulated these sentiments. In a series of speeches, he has accented human solidarity, diplomacy, cooperation, and peaceful settlement of contentious issues. In nearly every region of the world, the president has engaged with countries that during the Bush years were considered mortal enemies — Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and others.
In Latin America, he has expressed a readiness to put relations between our government and others in the region on a different footing. In a historic speech in Prague, he voiced his wish to reduce and ultimately abolish nuclear weapons. And in an unprecedented address in Cairo he indicated his eagerness to reset relations with the Muslim world, sit down with the Iranian government, and press for a two state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
No small achievement! What the president has said (and done) so far constitutes a qualitative turn from the policies of the previous administration and an acknowledgement that the U.S. has to adapt to new world realities and challenges.
In contrast with the Bush administration that employed naked force to maintain U.S. imperial dominance (and abjectly failed in its mission), President Obama is going in a different direction. How far he will go is another question that can’t be answered yet. It will depend not only on his desires, but also on the actions of the American people and of people and governments worldwide. All of us have a stake in reconfiguring and democratizing global relations.
That his deeds do not fully match his words is to be noted, but not to the point where it takes away in the least from the fact that the president has not only started a conversation, but also has created space for the rest of us to participate in this conversation which hopefully will lead to a more peaceful, just, and egalitarian world.
For that President Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.