May 21, 2018
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Nobel Mettle

The Nobel Prize has long been considered recognition of significant accomplishment, often over a lifetime. So the surprise awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama appears to be an endorsement of his well-articulated call for a new era rather than evidence of moving toward it, at least at this time.

The Nobel committee praised the president for his message of hope, especially with regard to nuclear disarmament. The committee praised Obama for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

“Very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the committee said Friday morning.

Encouraging diplomacy and cooperation and giving people hope are, of course, positive, but a record of accomplishment would be a better reason for recognition, especially since the deadline for Nobel Prize nominations was less than two weeks after President Obama took office.

It is hard to judge President Obama’s success in these realms since he has been in office less than a year. Sad to say, but there still is time for expanded wars or military strikes or other currently unforeseen events that could leave a legacy that is far from peaceful.

Two other sitting presidents have received the award: Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for his role in ending the 1905 war between Russia and Japan and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 though his trademark League of Nations and Treaty of Versailles fell short of expectations.

Critics rightly point out that despite his rhetoric, the president has yet to resolve any international conflicts or reduce the number of nuclear arms — in part because he hasn’t been president long enough.

“It looks less like an objective award than it does a political endorsement,” William Jelani Cobb, a history professor at Spelman College in Atlanta and author of a forthcoming book on Obama, told Reuters. At the same time, the Nobel committee’s endorsement of the Obama administration’s move toward engagement with other countries while lessening the reliance on military intervention is a welcome encouragement to stay on this path.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics,” the committee said in its statement. “Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climactic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.”

If President Obama fulfills these lofty aspirations, he may well be worthy of the Nobel Prize, but only time will tell.

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