I was certain I was either reading an Onion headline or had woken up in an alternative reality when I learned that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Huh? Even Obama had the good sense to say he didn’t deserve it:
This morning, Michelle and I awoke to some surprising and humbling news. At 6 a.m., we received word that I’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.
To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.
But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.
This is all nice phrasemaking, which is Obama’s long suit. But since we are seeing that “Change you can believe is” is really “no change”, I remain skeptical that this supposed call to action will lead to any action, or at least of the sort that the award committee intended.
What is telling is the skepticism this award elicited, not the to-be-expected sort from the right, but from those of the center to left persuasion. For instance, Matt Yglesias admitted to being close to tongue-tied. Raw Story took note of the discomfort in “Not just conservatives mocking Obama’s Nobel win.” Clusterstock gave us, “Twitter Explodes With Obama Peace Prize Mockery.” I have never seen so many articles on Huffington Post on a single subject, and they were largely dubious, although some went to great lengths to be judicious about it.
Given the extensive coverage, a few samples illustrate the range of reactions. From Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times:
I am a genuine admirer of Obama. And I am very pleased that George W Bush is no longer president. But I doubt that I am alone in wondering whether this award is slightly premature. It is hard to point to a single place where Obama’s efforts have actually brought about peace – Gaza, Iran, Sri Lanka? The peace prize committee say that he is being rewarded for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy”. But while it is OK to give school children prizes for “effort” – my kids get them all the time – I think international statesmen should probably be held to a higher standard.
It is also very odd timing. In the next couple of weeks, Obama is likely to yield to the wishes of his generals and to send many thousands more troops to Afghanistan. That will mean he is a wartime president, just as much as Bush or Lyndon Johnson. If Afghanistan ends up being Obama’s Vietnam, giving him the Nobel Peace Prize will look even sillier in a few years time.
Joe Mathews of the New America Foundation, quoted at Politico, saw it as a clever political move by the Nobel Committee (which he incorrectly called Swedes, this one happened to be Norwegian):
Sure, he doesn’t have much of a record yet as a peacemaker (outside of Cambridge, Mass. and getting the pro-Hillary deadenders to fall in line). But this is a very, very clever move by the Nobel committee.
How’s that? First off, the choice of Obama has the whole world talking about the Nobel Prize. If they’d pick some Cambodian rice farmer/anti-war activist, no one would have noticed. The Nobel is relevant again. Second — and I suspect this was the committee’s real motivation — this choice, precisely because it’s controversial, gets common people all the over world talking, debating and thinking about peace and diplomacy. That’s important, especially in America, where citizens are much more focused on the economy and health care than on these kinds of issues.
If you doubt the wisdom of this choice, just look at the huge worldwide media coverage of this choice in the first few hours after it happened. Nice work, Swedes.
And then we have the Mencius Moldbug theory (extracted from longer-form musings):
The problem is that Americans, even progressives, are the people in the world who adore Obama the least. Normally it is advantageous, for continuity purposes, that Europeans love Obama. But it is not advantageous that they love him so much. It is weird, distracting and confusing. In short: off message.
This strange European affection is easily explained. You see, there was once an agency named the Office of War Information, which was more or less the pro-Roosevelt press organized as a government agency. OWI no longer exists, but not because it fell from favor; some of its people went to CIA, some went to State, some went back to pretending to be ordinary citizens. OWI is essentially the bureaucratic ancestor of the “mainstream media” as we know it today.
After the unfortunate events of 1941-45, the surviving Continental friends of these gentlemen were organized into a new industry, the official media of Europe. Even in Britain, those loyal to the new military configuration of the planet were praised and petted, and reproduced intellectually; those who were not so sure grew old, had no students, declined and died. Europe is a Darwinian paradise of information, all adapted to military events. You can be sure that had things gone otherwise, the grandchildren of Celine, Brasillach and Drieu la Rochelle would constitute “European public opinion.”
So the problem is: Europe is gaga for Obama not because the wise Europeans, with their centuries of history, raw-milk cheeses and infinitely subtle wines, have deliberated long on the subject, gazed into their crystal balls and detected the promise and meaning of Obama. Europe is gaga for Obama because Europe, as we now know it, is a propaganda colony of Washington. The pre-1940 Europe is of historical interest only, like the Aztecs.
But this is not the Warsaw Pact. Nothing in this relationship is coordinated or hierarchical; Europe is gaga for Obama not because Washington sends it instructions to go gaga for Obama; Europe is gaga for Obama because it truly loves Obama. It wants to love Obama.
In fact, we can see this perfectly in the Nobel episode, because no White House flack in his right mind would have ever asked for this. No State Department would have lobbied for it. If, as some believe, Obama is just a front for the Jews – the Jews are horrified. This ridiculous thing will be a millstone around the administration’s neck for the next three years. Whoever did it cannot have been acting under any sort of instructions.