There's a reason the righties used
to make fun of John Kerry for his fondness of nuance; they simply can't see it
or understand it.
Listen to the whining and
complaining about President Obama's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. I could
understand arguments that suggest it's too soon, or that he hasn’t accomplished
enough quite yet; there’s at least something of a rational basis for such an
idea, especially given the sad state of our news media these days. But most of
the biggest complaints are nothing short of irrational. The de facto head of
the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, actually found himself in agreement with
the Taliban with his remarks about what a “joke” the Peace Prize has become,
and didn’t see that as a sign that, perhaps, he might be wrong. I don't know about you, but when I find myself in agreement with oppressive idiots, I actually re-think my position. But then, I think my position in the first place.
Let me explain the Nobel Peace Prize
in a way that most on the right may be able to understand.
You see, while Aunt Millie wins a
Blue Ribbon at the County Fair for having the best blueberry pie, and Uncle
Homer won a big stuffed animal for shooting the red star off the card, the
Nobel Peace Prize isn't won for bringing the most peace to the world, or for
being the most peaceful person in it. Rather, it's a prize for doing a lot to
restore or create an environment that fosters peace. Essentially, it's a prize
that is given more for hope than accomplishment. Rabin and (especially) Arafat
didn’t win the Peace Prize for actually negotiating a peace treaty, or for
leading peaceful lives themselves (obviously), but for simply working toward peace.
After the Bush Administration squandered the good will the US experienced after
9/11 and proceeded to turn our reputation to shit in eight long years, I have
no doubt that a large part of the Nobel committee's decision has to do with
relief that the world survived the Bush years.
I get that, given that the nomination was made less than two weeks after Obama took office, it's difficult to make the
case that the nomination was based entirely on actual accomplishments as president.
But the vote was taken last week, not in February, and he's accomplished a lot in that time. Besides, the Nobel Peace Prize reflects hope. And Barack Obama’s election alone has
done more to bring hope to the world than most could possibly imagine. You
really have to read the world press to understand the hope that surrounded last
year’s election, and unfortunately, Americans don’t do world press very often.
I had the unique opportunity to be
living in Australia when Barack Obama won election, and the elation felt by the
people down under was palpable. The Americans down there were happy, because we
no longer had to tell people we were Canadian, eh. But even those who live down
there full time were excited. They, and
most of the rest of the world, absolutely hated what the United States had
become under George Bush. You could practically hear choruses of "Ding
Dong, the Witch is Dead" rise up when Obama won, and the rest of the world
figured out that we had awakened from our slumber.
In other words, just having a
hopeful president like Barack Obama in charge was probably half the rationale
behind the Nobel Committee's choice. They were excited by the sentiments
expressed during the campaign and the transition; not just his first few days
as president. And frankly, whether you think it's "too soon" or not,
the Nobel People were downright prescient.
If the naysayers would bother to put
down their megaphones and listen for once, I'll tell you exactly why President
Obama deserves this honor. Most of this was covered by the news, but it was
drowned out by Glenn Beck's crying jags, and 24/7 coverage of the Octomom and
Jon and Kate, so here's a relatively short recap.
- He chose Hillary Clinton as his
Secretary of State. Don't even begin to
underestimate the impact of her choice when it comes to healing the wounds our
reputation suffered under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The world knows,
loves and trusts Hillary Clinton, and her choice alone was an olive branch that
has to be considered. They watched the campaign, and they saw the vitriol that
marked politics in this country at times. By choosing Senator Clinton, he sent
a message to the world that he was a man who could make peace. It was also a
good move for practical reasons, as well, as she definitely has the chops to
bring diplomacy back to US foreign policy. Secretary of State Clinton, in one
of her first official acts, attended an aid conference in Gaza and committed
$900 million to “foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully
realized, a state that is a responsible partner, is at peace with Israel and
its Arab neighbors and is accountable to its people.”
- He chose Eric Holder as Attorney
General. During his confirmation hearings, Holder became the first person in eight
years to say that torture was illegal, and that waterboarding constituted
torture, period. Having the legal face of the administration finally certify
that the government of the United States considered such treatment as wrong
went a long way to heal our tarnished reputation. The entire world let out a
sigh of relief. What you have to understand is, the rest of the world looks to
us for leadership; if we sanction torture, then anyone else in the world can
torture at will.
- Immediately after taking office, he
ordered the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and named one of his top diplomats, Dan
Fried, as "Gitmo Closing Czar." While many on our political right, have
thrown up a significant number of blocks to the effort, and it may happen a
month or so late, but the fact is, Gitmo will
close, and close soon. He also immediately crafted and signed an Executive
Order banning torture and directing all military personnel to make sure all
interrogations conform to the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions, and
he signed one that ordered all CIA secret prisons closed. To top that off, Obama also ordered a
comprehensive review of all US interrogation and detention policies, and
released Bush torture memos to the public. Again, you can’t underestimate the
value to the world of having the last remaining superpower once again reassert its
intention to value human life.
- During his campaign, and during the
transition, as well as one of his first acts as president, Obama asserted his
intention to sign on to global climate treaties, and to take the issue of
global warming seriously. While we have a very loud minority in this country
who thinks this is a “hoax,” and that global warming doesn’t exist, most of the
rest of the world takes science seriously, and knows the climate’s changing,
and they face major problems when it does. Having the United States back on
board sends a message to the rest of the world.
- During his Inauguration speech,
President Obama called for better relations and more open diplomacy with the
Muslim world, characterized by “mutual interest and mutual respect,” and
followed that up by giving his first interview as president to Al Arabiya.
In Turkey, he asserted that “America is not at war with Islam,” and that the
relationship between the United States and the Arab world "cannot, and
will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism."
- Just after his Inauguration,
President Obama immediately placed calls to several Arab leaders to discuss
Middle East peace – not just Palestine and Israel, but everyone in the region
— and established commitment from day one. He also appointed the highly
respected George Mitchell as Middle East Envoy, and Mitchell has made at least
a half dozen diplomatic trips thus far.
He followed that up by sending high level diplomats to Syria, and
invited Syria's top diplomat here for talks, something that hasn't happened for
- Very early on, he asserted his
foreign policy chops by treating an incident of piracy in Somalia as the
criminal act that it was, rather than a rationale for war. Snipers quickly
ended the threat by taking out the pirates, and only the pirates. Don’t
underestimate the effect on the rest of the world; they had begun to think of
us as superpower war mongers, and this incident sent a message to the rest of
the world that, going forward, the United States would do its best to just go
after the bad guys. That signaled a major change in American foreign policy
from the previous eight years, and allowed the rest of the world to relax a
- When two journalists from the United
States were arrested and thrown in prison in North Korea, President Obama, with
little fanfare, sent former President Clinton over to retrieve them and bring
them home, in return for a couple of photographs of Clinton with Kim Jong Il. It
signaled a huge thaw in tensions with North Korea, which is important to that part
of the world.
- The Obama Administration has done a
lot to reach out to reform the global finance system, leading G-20 members to
make a $1 trillion commitment to prop up the weakest economies in the country,
and to commit to global financial reform, including a possible end to such
practices as offering offshore tax havens, and financial structures that
gleefully hide the assets of criminals. That has already been put to the test,
when Switzerland agreed to reveal the assets for several criminals this past
summer. If we’re going to fight terrorism for real, we’ll need to bleed them
dry, and this is a major tool for doing that.
- Through a major address in Prague
early in his presidency, Obama laid out a comprehensive plan to strengthen nuclear
nonproliferation regimes and reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons. He's committed
to working with the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and
announced plans, along with Russia, to commit to a new START treaty, and reduce
stockpiles in the two countries to about 1,500.
- Obama quietly ended the ridiculous
"quest" to build a space-based missile defense system, which was seen
by the rest of the world as an arrogant conquest of space, designed to
intimidate the rest of the world. While we saw it as “protection,” the rest of
the world saw that as a threat. After all, if space-based lasers could be made
to shoot down missiles, what else could they shoot down in the wrong hands? And
make no mistake; as the rest of the world saw it, Obama’s predecessor very much
constituted “the wrong hands.”
- Obama took Iran's attempts to build
a secret nuclear facility head on, encouraging the first diplomatic talks with
the country in many years. He also received a commitment from Iran to
unfettered inspections of the facility by International Atomic Energy
inspectors. Of course, he is rightfully skeptical, but the agreement is still
- The Obama Administration has reached
out to Europe by reasserting US support for NATO, and made a dramatic shift in
US policy by expressing their support for a EU defense force. He also visited Turkey, to try to repair that
alliance, and actually brokered an agreement to normalize relations between
Turkey and Armenia. He also held public forums in Germany, France and the Czech
- The Obama Administration cut useless
and ineffective weapons programs, and ordered major cutbacks on the use of
contractors. They ordered an increase in payments to ground forces and special
forces personnel, and an expansion of medical care for veterans, signaling an
era in which the US Military puts people ahead of hardware.
That's just a partial list of the
foreign policy accomplishments of President Obama in just his first eight
months. I haven't even mentioned the overtures he’s made to Cuba, Mexico and
Latin America, to repair major fissures in our relations with our neighbors, or
the vast number of energy and environmental initiatives. And the United Nations
is being given respect again, for the first time in eight years, to the point
that our UN representative has been elevated to Cabinet status once again.
The United States has made an
incredible shift in the focus of our foreign policy, and we're once again
making friends with other countries, and engaging our enemies, in the hope that
they'll put down their guns and talk. But another difference is, the president
is doing his job without getting on TV every day to tell us how great he is. The
era of United States arrogance when dealing with the rest of the world seems to
be over. And make no mistake; the rest of the world did think of us that way,
and they did fear us.
When I heard that President Obama
won the Nobel Peace Prize, I was probably as shocked as anyone. It does seem a
bit soon, especially since nominations ended on February 1. But you can’t
underestimate the negative feelings the rest of the world experienced when Bush
was in charge, and the hope they felt when the messages he sent during his
campaign were assented to by the American people. Make no mistake; this award
is as much an award for the American people for choosing hope and change, as it
is for Obama.
Of course, when you look at his
overall record, it's difficult to argue that the Nobel Committee didn’t hit the
nail on the head.
That said, I'd really like for the
president to continue his great record of creating peace, by working hard to
bring an end to our involvement in Afghanistan, by persuading the rest of the
world to help us secure the country and opening up diplomatic channels with all
of the factions over there. I'd hate to see such a negative mark tarnish what
is so far shaping up to be a revolutionary foreign policy initiative by the
Congratulations, President Obama; you
deserve it, no matter what the wingnuts say. But understand what this means. It
means a lot is expected of the United States and you, and you have to do your
best to not let everyone down.