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Friday, October 9, 2009

President Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize

Wow. Intense feelings have arisen among the American crowd in response to President's Obama winning the peace prize. Why did the committee choose him?

Because of his...

"Extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples"

"Only 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. His diplomacy is founded on the concept that those who lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitude that are shared by the majority of the world's population. The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited the president's creation of a "new climate in international politics" and his work on nuclear disarmament.

But oh are people mad. I find the pushback on this one interesting. On my Facebook, I wrote, "President Obama wins the Peace Prize. My only disappointment is that it's awarded in Oslo, Norway and not in Stockholm like the rest of them." It created a stormy comment thread that mainly expressed disdain for his receiving it. Now, I'm not saying that Obama is deserving of the prize at this juncture in his life, but I am at least willing to consider why they have chosen him. I believe the world is hungry for a more cooperative style of interaction and yearning for civil discourse. Some of my readers may disagree with me, but during the Bush Administration's season, these were two things that were sorely lacking in America's leadership. The fact that Bush took us into two wars that few in the world supported, that have become an absolute quagmire remains a bitter pill to swallow. So in awarding Obama, the committee is at least in part saying, "This is the type of leader that can create a more peaceful world." Perhaps it would've been more prudent to wait a few years to actually award Obama with the prize, but even so, the lack of respect and honor shown to Obama in light of his winning the prize is staggering. It almost seems like people are angry at Obama. He didn't run for the prize. He was chosen. A humble congratulations is in order even if you disagree with the outcome. Isn't that part of what it means to practice civility?

After pondering my own thoughts and the many thoughts and reactions flying around Facebook, my sister-in-law posted the following comment.
"Wowza! I am thrilled that our President was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. For the most powerful person in the free world to address the world about nuclear disarmament, embrace Muslims as fellow human beings on the journey with us rather than our enemies and work to level the playing field of economic disparity rampant in our country, I say "You gObama!" I realize he is a mere mortal but in my opinion an extraordinary man working for peace and justice in the world. I can't really come up with causes more noble than the ones this Nobel prize winner is working for!" This comment makes sense to me. I realize that many of my right leaning friends are crying foul because they wonder what he's done to deserve such an award. What do they expect that he could've done in the past 9 months? At least he's changed the rhetoric and the perception of who America is in the world. To my friends living in America, perhaps you don't fully understand how bad our reputation had gotten overseas. Yes, Obama needs to deliver but at least he's seeking a much more cooperative tone as he seeks to deal with a fractured world.

Obama had the grace to say that he's accepting the award as a mandate to be a leader who pursues peace. The mess in Afghanistan will certainly test his mettle. But perhaps this prize will serve as a clear reminder to one of the most powerful leaders in the world that the pursuit of peace is a noble one and one that should be pursued with rigor and assertiveness.

I don't know for sure that Obama is the best candidate for the peace prize this year. But I know for sure that the anger and absolute lack of respect being shown to the President at this juncture does not promote a more peaceful society. I hope we can figure out a way to pursue peace, engage in civil discourse and more respectfully disagree with one another. Otherwise, we will never see the peace that our world sorely needs.