« Previous  
 Next »

Parini: Thoughts on the Nobel Prize

10/12/09 7:55AM By Jay Parini
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST) Along with most of the rest of the world, commentator Jay Parini had a complex series of reactions when he heard that President Obama was to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.  

(PARINI) I do worry that the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace to President Barack Obama may have been premature, a gift to his enemies - who are numerous, and who really do hope he does not succeed in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in pushing through dramatic health care legislation, and in changing the pattern of American power and its deployment in the world.  Already the blogosphere has gone wild:  alas, I myself have wasted countless hours reading what people had to say about this matter, both for and against.

Perhaps it's time to take it from the top.  Why would a committee in Norway bother to give such a prestigious prize, one that has gone to Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela, to a young man who hasn't even served a full year yet in the office of president?

Those who say Obama has yet to accomplish anything specific have a solid point:  he's still scratching his head about Afghanistan. And he should scratch his head:  the problem seems, to me, intractable, with no obvious solutions.  Iraq was a disaster from the outset, and it remains a disaster, and this will not easily change.  Health care - well, my fingers are crossed.  The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that something has to change, as the current system shames us, leaving tens of millions without adequate help in times of need.

But let's go back to the Nobel committee?  What did they have in mind?

It seems obvious they were speaking to the promise of Barack Obama, not his accomplishment. Compared to other recipients of the prize, his record is thin.  How could it be otherwise?  Then again, he has already accomplished one big thing:  he has changed our approach to the world community by recognizing that, in fact, it is a community.  He has repudiated the idea that the United States must go it alone simply  because it happens to have in its possession the most lethal military establishment in the history of the world.  This bully approach to diplomacy was always a disgrace to American ideals, and in its applications in the Middle East and elsewhere disgraced us in the eyes of the world.

I think it's pretty clear that the Nobel committee was rewarding a change of intention.  In fact, Obama has signaled a willingness to listen.   And he has actually listened.

Yet I fear that this award, being premature - which it certainly is - will give ammunition to those who want to see Obama fail.  They will mock him, suggesting he is all flash and no substance.

In the end, I hope the prize emboldens our president, inviting him to live up to the accolade by actually making peace in the world.  The old hippie phrase - "give peace a chance" -  has never seemed more relevant.  I hope Mr. Obama can actually figure out how to do that - and retire from office feeling that he did, indeed, deserve the faith in his promise shown to him by a small committee in Oslo with their very large vote of confidence.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter