10.09.09

Obama's Nobel Farce

The president has done nothing to deserve the peace prize. Peter Beinart on why the award only aids the right’s arguments that Obamamania bears no relation to reality.

President Obama said on Friday morning he was " most surprised and deeply humbled" by being awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize," he added. The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart on why the award only aids the right’s arguments that Obamamania bears no relation to reality.

George W. Bush launched a “preemptive” war. Now the Nobel Committee is trying for “preemptive” peace. I had always thought the way these things worked was that you helped bring peace or democracy to some corner of the globe first, and then you won the Nobel Prize. But this year, the Nobel Committee has turned that logic around: It clearly likes what Obama is trying to do: on nuclear disarmament, climate change and Middle East peace—and so, in a “preemptive” strike, it’s giving him the award now, in hopes that doing so will boost his chances of success later. It’s an interesting idea. Perhaps next they’ll start giving Oscars not to the people who have made the best movies of last year, but to the people who have the best chance of making the best movies next year. After all, once you’ve already made the movie, you no longer need the encouragement.

Perhaps next they’ll start giving Oscars not to the people who have made the best movies of last year, but to the people who have the best chance of making the best movies next year.

I like Barack Obama as much as the next liberal, but this is a farce. He’s done nothing to deserve the prize. Sure, he’s given some lovely speeches and launched some initiatives—on Iran, Israeli-Palestinian peace, climate change and nuclear disarmament—that might, if he’s really lucky and really good, make the world a more safe, more just, more peaceful world. But there’s absolutely no way to know if he’ll succeed, and by giving him the Nobel Prize as a kind of “atta boy,” the Nobel Committee is actually just highlighting the gap that conservatives have long highlighted: between Obamamania as global hype and Obama’s actual accomplishments.

Gallery: American Nobel Peace Prize Winners

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But Obama will survive this award. The damage to the Nobel Committee itself will be greater. They’ve clearly fallen in love with celebrity, and with the idea of shaping the course of history—in other words, they’ve fallen in love with an absurdly grandiose conception of their role. The Nobel Prize Committee should be in the business of conferring celebrity on unknown human-rights and peace activists toiling in the most god-forsaken parts of the world; the people who really need the attention (and even the money). It should be in the business of angering powerful tyrants by giving their victims a moment in the sun. Choosing Barack Obama, who practically orbits the sun already, accomplishes the exact opposite of that. Let’s hope Obama eventually deserves this award. And let’s hope the Nobel Committee’s decision meets with such a deafening chorus of chortles and jeers that it never does something this stupid again.

 

Xtra Insight: Big Fat Story: Crib Notes on Obama's Nobel

Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, is a professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.