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Anthony Badami '11: Nobel Obama and his ignoble opposition

Last week, five Norwegians convened in Oslo to decide which of their distinguished nominees deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

As you no doubt have heard from the blitzkrieg of national news, President Obama is this year's recipient.

Just hours after his selection, critics from the left and the right assembled as well — though not to heap praise. Rather, they convened to hurl rebukes aplenty at the eccentric Nobel Committee.

The Scandinavians fired back that the prize was meant to enhance Obama's efforts in international diplomacy, an agenda that includes the sizable task of reducing nuclear proliferation globally as well as ending our intervention in Mesopotamia.

I myself take slight issue with Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland's reasoning that they "are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year." Pundits are partially correct in chiding this justification, especially considering Obama was nominated for the prize just two weeks into his tenure.

So far, Obama has done little more than buoy centrist policies abroad.

Let's check the foreign policy scorecard: His speech in Cairo made a splash, but he must adopt further hard policy in countries with anti-Western feelings before real ideological change can occur. He was right to urge Israeli leaders to freeze settlements, but further support for the disastrously debilitated population of Palestine is essential. And little can be said about Obama's support of the Iranian democratic revolution, mostly because he has said nothing.

Compound these dilemmas with an ailing global economy and you will start to understand the titanic job our 44th president has in front of him. Such a hefty burden, then, is why I must support the Committee's decision. Obama needs the symbolic power bestowed by this prize now more than ever.

He seems to understand this responsibility. In his acceptance speech, he viewed the accolade as "an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

Though it was surprising, let us not dismiss this honor so immediately. In 2008, the American public gave Obama our mandate to rule. Earlier this month, the international community emblematically extended its mandate as well. The Nobel will serve as a calibrator, a metric by which Obama will be judged. From this point on, he will enter foreign nations as a statesmen and a peacemaker. It is his title to sully.

Admonishment of this selection should be directed at the committee itself, not at Obama. Conservative pundits like Limbaugh who will use this award to denounce Obama as a socialist radical or Taliban sympathizer should be met with the harshest castigation.

But while it is easy to give in to this overwhelming stricture (if not for agreement, at least for comfort), bear in mind that Obama will be confronting this censorious chorus as well. Some have stated correctly that Obama does not meet the standard outlined by Alfred Nobel.

The official standard states that the Peace Prize be awarded to the individual that "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations." The "shall have" part of that statement is difficult to avoid.

Dominic Mhiripiri '12 wrote in Friday's column ("Of Obama, Tsvangirai and a Nobel war," Oct. 16) that Obama didn't deserve the comparison to past laureates like Mother Teresa — an individual who seldom preached ‘peace,' and declared to the world during her Nobel speech that ‘abortion' was the ‘greatest enemy of peace.' I hope it isn't too brash of me to imagine that Obama could do better than this. 

Yes, Obama's current record is generally unremarkable. But, in an attempt to qualify such cold cynicism, I must say that Obama has done something no other political figure in recent history has been able to do — he refused the maxim, especially salient in the last eight years, that one should not "negotiate with terrorists."

On the campaign trail, Obama was asked repeatedly whether diplomatic engagement with the likes of Iran, Syria and Venezuela was advisable. He responded that refusal to talk to these nations in order to punish was simply "ridiculous." Obama is right to reproach this archaic and destructive vision of diplomacy promulgated by war criminals like Henry Kissinger. This mentality has been responsible for creating international quagmires in the Middle East and Latin America that still persist today.

We stand at a critical juncture in international politics. Malevolent forces abound from North Korea to Iran to Libya to sub-Saharan Africa. Be it hard or soft, literal or symbolic, Obama needs all the ammunition he can obtain.

I applaud the Norwegian committee for their intrepid, albeit unexpected, selection. Obama's presidency is moving this country decidedly and unabashedly towards a long-awaited diplomatic reorientation. Thus, I suggest we stop all of this petulant condemnation and move with it.

Anthony Badami '11 is a political theory concentrator from Kansas City, MO. He can be reached at anthony_badami(at)brown.edu.




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