Honestly, I don’t really know what to think. During his acceptance speech, President Obama attempted to deflect attention from himself, and for good reason. One would be hard pressed to find a solid problem that he has yet solved. This doesn’t mean he won’t solve any problems or that he will; it’s just a statement of fact. But it’s not necessarily important that he has “done” anything. No one who has won the Nobel Peace Prize has ever actually brought about peace in the world. It is their effort to bring about peace that the award seeks to honor.
There are two sentences in the Nobel Prize Committee’s announcement concerning President Obama that stand out. The first is this: “Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.” Many countries were disappointed that the Bush Administration went around the United Nations and pushed for the war in Iraq. The Bush Administration abandoned diplomacy in almost all instances and this was seen as an affront to the international community. Whether or not one agrees with President Bush’s policies doesn’t really matter when we consider the larger picture. In the months following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. we had the entire planet behind us, including the countries from which the terrorists came. That goodwill was effectively squandered within a year.
The second sentence is this: “[President Obama’s] diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.” This sentence reflects the same theme as the first. President Obama has made it a point to re-orient the United States as part of a greater piece of machinery. He’s made it a point to re-emphasize the fact that we are a small part of something much more important. As cheesy as it sounds, we are part of a global community.
There are many people in the United States that severely dislike the United Nations and disagree strongly with the fact that the United States is a member. They are proud of their country (as they should be) and don’t want the United States to be forced to concede to a higher power. While I understand where those feelings come from, I feel that it is extremely arrogant to hold the attitude that we shouldn’t have to answer to anyone else in the world. There are 300 million people in the United States and 6 billion on the entire planet. We are 5% of the total population. While I do believe that, given the extraordinary advantages we have both politically and economically, we have a duty to lead the world, we don’t have the right to make decisions for everyone else or without recognizing our part in the grander global theater.
I am at a complete loss for words when I hear people speak negatively of the idea that we are part of a larger community. Individual states within America have maintained their own unique cultures even though they are a part of something bigger—the United States. Why should anything less be expected if the United States embraced a more global strategy when attempting to solve problems? Being part of something bigger doesn’t demonstrate weakness. It demonstrates wisdom and the understanding that indeed, as Donne so beautifully wrote, no man is an island entire unto itself.
In his acceptance speech, President Obama acknowledged that he didn’t deserve to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He went on to say, “I 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.” He then went on to give a politically neutral message to the world by calling for all nations to eradicate nuclear weapons, prevent climate change (to the extent that this is or is not possible), end Middle Eastern conflict, and educate their respective populations. While I’m not sure that President Obama did deserve this award, I am happy that it happened. And who knows, maybe this will push other countries to cooperate a little more in terms of making progress solving global problems. After all, who wants to be the guy who didn’t sign a peace treaty drafted by a Nobel Peace Prize winner?