Friday, October 16, 2009

Obama's Best Option: Earn It

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize a burden and an opportunity

Amidst the competing bombast from either side of the stark ideological divide, it can actually be difficult to decide just what, precisely, the reasonable position on Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize may actually be.

As McGill History Professor Gil Troy notes in a column in the Globe and Mail, it may indeed be simply too early too tell:
"As liberals rejoice in Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize and conservatives grumble, let's be honest: It is too early too tell. Awarding this prize either may be prescient or premature. Regardless, the award reflects the noble aspirations of the award committee and the prize winner.

The committee beautifully described Mr. Obama's greatest accomplishment thus far. '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 citation says. The fact that despite its racist past, despite the stains of slavery and Jim Crow, the United States sent a black man to the White House was a modern miracle. That this President was only 47 when elected, and had, by his own description, a 'funny name,' is even more amazing especially following 9/11.
If an argument such as this were to hold true, perhaps the entire United States -- not just its President. But that may be beyond the point.

As Troy notes, Obama's Presidency and his Nobel Peace Prize were both born out of the noblest of intentions. But the greatest test of noble intentions is how well they can be applied in the real world, with all its dark blemishes:
"Alas, even with Mr Obama in office, the world is menaced by ignoble characters who disdain his noble aspirations. The jury is still out whether Mr Obama's politics of hope and diplomacy of engagement can work in a world of al-Qaeda killers, North Korean dictators, Iranian madmen, Iraqi insurgents, Taliban fanatics, Afghan warlords, Pakistani generals, Russian strongmen, Saudi Sheiks, Sudanese slaughterers, Guinean rapists and Hamas terrorists.

So far, there have been no major disasters on Mr Obama's watch – but no major successes either. North Korea and Iran continue to develop nuclear power: North Korea launched missiles on July 4 to defy Mr Obama, while Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole an election and cracked down on democratic forces with barely a peep from the US President. Mr Obama has kept pressing Al Qaeda with drone attacks, the Taliban with talk of more troops, Iraqi anarchists by refusing to withdraw precipitously.

But the Russians seem to think he can be pushed around, horrific crimes like the mass murder in Darfur and the mass military rapes of opposition protesters in Guinea continue to occur (inevitably, alas). And in a striking, but characteristic contrast from the Middle East, this week, Professor Ada Yonath won Israel's ninth Nobel prize – and the first chemistry Nobel for a woman since 1964 – even as Hamas and other Palestinian agitators called for violence in Jerusalem.

The contrast between noble societies that invest in science and ignoble societies addicted to terror, between noble political cultures that produce hope-generators like Barack Obama and ignoble political cultures that produce mass killers, remains stunning – and daunting.
It should go without saying that this will be the greatest test of Obama's Presidency.

But, as many Canadians will draw upon the life and experiences of former Prime Minister Leaster Pearson when discussing Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, it's interesting to note the key difference between tne experience of Obama at the time of his award and those of Pearson.

By the time Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize he had already earned it by skilfully defusing the Suez Canal Crisis.

Pearson was thus already pre-committed to the path of diplomacy in all things. In cases where diplomacy was ineffective or inapplicable, Pearson was left with very few options. Far too often this rendered Pearson all too silent on key international issues -- such as the Vietnam war.

Obama, however, has essentially received the Nobel Peace Prize with his good intentions as a deposit. But his actions haven't precommitted him to any particular course. Obama can still earn his Nobel Peace Prize, and even has the luxury of winning it with a realist foreign policy.

Many members of the so-called "peace" movement may consider it to be anathema to win the Nobel Peace Prize by militarily securing Afghanistan -- and thus helping to secure Pakistan -- from government by terrorist-harbouring religious fundamentalists.

But when one considers the stake of stabilizing Afghanistan -- which will help, in turn, stabilize Pakistan -- could be as high as preventing nuclear war between Pakistan and India and preventing nuclear terrorism abroad, the Nobel Peace Prize committee should be able to forgive Obama if he's willing to help contain and defeat one of the most tyrannical governments of the 20th century (deposed in the 21st) with military force.

Judging by the conclusion of Gil Troy's article, he may or may not understand this:
"Good people throughout the world should unite in hoping that the aspirations embedded in this award to a rookie President quickly transform into impressive achievements. Thus far, Mr Obama has dazzled the world with his poetry. Let us hope that when we look back on this moment, his Nobel prize will be a milestone in his ability to turn his transcendent poetry into workable, governable prose, the hopes into feats, and, nations' swords into plowshares."

There are, naturally, few better ways to ensure peace than to defeat forces like the Taliban who only thwart it.

The Nobel Peace Prize isn't an award typically associated with wartime leaders. If Obama can successfully help contain and defeat the Taliban, however, that Nobel Peace Prize may have been earned.

Moreover, it may be earned in a manner that fuses Barack Obama's noble intentions with the means to make them reality.

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