To sum up the the universal reaction, what the heck? (Or, as a morning e-mail put it, "Really?")
Adam may have said it best: "No joke, Obama should turn the Nobel Peace prize down until he's finished with his two wars." Obama is doing pretty well as president, but it hasn't even been a year yet! On the international peace front, he has made "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” but they are only efforts thus far. Far better to wait unto those efforts pay off to give him the prize. Make no mistake, though, the odd timing of this award isn't Obama's fault.
For the White House, what to do? Accepting it seems destined to play into accusations of hubris, but turning down the slightly-less-distinguished-than-they-were-yesterday Nobel Committee isn't very ... diplomatic. I wouldn't be surprised if Obama rejects the prize, but then again, a platform is always useful for a president. Obama should accept the award on behalf of the United States and then recognize 10 or 15 underappreciated people working for peace around the world -- anything to take the focus off his personality and recognize real accomplishment. He could even surprise the world community -- and soften his domestic critics -- with a demand for more foreign military assistance in Afghanistan and public pressure on the world's diplomatic hard cases, from Iran and North Korea to Israel and Palestine.
The committee's decision reflects a lot of impulses. One may simply be to show appreciation for U.S. efforts that are slow-going, urging both an administration and a people who might get impatient that the world appreciates the work thus far -- welcome back to constructive play. There is a precedent for that kind of approach. It may be a final put-down to the previous administration, which earned itself a lot of enmity abroad. Here is the official justification, which is somewhat...persuasive, to be honest:
“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” [Norwegian Nobel Committee Chair Thorbjorn] Jagland said. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
He compared the selection of Mr. Obama with the award in 1971 to the then West German Chancellor Willy Brandt for his “Ostpolitik” policy of reconciliation with communist Eastern Europe.
“Brandt hadn’t achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” said Mr. Jagland. “The same thing is true of the prize to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, for launching perestroika. One can say that Barack Obama is trying to change the world, just as those two personalities changed Europe.”
If you take the premise that the U.S. is the premiere foreign policy actor in the world, and that Obama is trying to fundamentally shift the U.S. approach to foreign policy, then I suppose, in the tradition Jagland cites, this makes some sense. But it still feels too early. Meanwhile, the Taliban and the American Right join together, once again, to condemn the prize.
-- Tim Fernholz