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A Nobel Gesture for Barack
by James Hall, Senior Associate Editor

October 12, 2009

"Leaning Left"

James Hall SIt's been a tough summer for Barack Obama: tough sledding on a health insurance bill from Congress; internal conflict over what to do next in Afghanistan, and even the debacle in Copenhagen, where the International Olympic Committee turned down his presentation and placed the USA last on a list of cities for the upcoming summer games. So it came as a real surprise this morning when another group of euros, the Nobel organization, awarded Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize early yesterday.

The response from the crowd at the announcement said it all: shock and surprise. It left the Nobel people with some 'splaining to do. President Obama himself expressed great surprise that he was even considered, and said that he was "humbled" to have been given the prize.

Some people will use the award as yet another reason to attack Obama. Michael Steele, the Republican national chairman, said that it was Obama's "star power" that won him the award. Lech Walesa, the Pole who led Solidarity, called it "premature." Both of them are probably right. But it's not Barack's fault that he was singled out; he didn't apply for the award.

The three other US presidents who have won the Peace Prize did so for extensive accomplishments. Teddy Roosevelt, for mediating a peace between Russia and Japan, Woodrow Wilson for establishing the League of Nations, and Jimmy Carter for brokering the peace between Egypt and Israel, all accomplishments worthy of a peace prize.

So what has Obama done that caught the attention of the Nobel committee? He showed the world that an African-American could reach the highest political position in the world. He announced a change in America's foreign policy that took us off the path of cowboy diplomacy, and destroyed the image of an arrogant America which told the rest of the world to follow or get out of the way.

He spoke out for peace, for nuclear disarmament. With his speech in Cairo, he started a dialogue with the world's Muslims. He has attempted to reengage the recalcitrant Israelis and Palestinians who have only grown farther apart in the Bush years. Most importantly, he reintroduced the idea of a moral America, committed to the due process of law and not to secret prisons, water-boarding, rendition, or the purgatory of an endless imprisonment-without-charge in Guantanomo.

He has begun to talk with nations that the previous administration had refused to communicate with. Against the howling of the irrational right, he has steadfastly kept his cool and called for dialogue and discussion instead of overheated, partisan rhetoric.

In short, he's created a new tone in Washington, a new image of America as a nation that listens, that works with others, a nation that can be a committed and just partner in the world. And he's done this during one of the most difficult times in our nation's history.

Are all these thoughts, ideas, and actions big enough to earn a Nobel Peace Prize? I myself don't think so. But I agree with Senator John McCain's graceful comment that the award adds luster to the American presidency and increases America's prestige in the world at a time when we could use a boost.

It gives President Obama himself support and encourages him to keep trying to reach out to others, to keep reaching for lofty goals and attempt difficult solutions. While Barack Obama doesn't deserve the Nobel Prize yet, there's a chance that he can grow into the kind of president who does. ***

2009 James Hall

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