The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Barack Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.” At the time the United States was, as he said himself, in the midst of two wars and many felt he had done nothing to deserve this honor.
The Nobel Peace Prize has a long history of controversy. Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite and whose company was an armaments manufacturer, had thought to appease his conscience because his invention had been used in and contributed to warfare and assassination. In addition, many of the recipients of the prize seemed singularly unworthy it. To cite a few among many:
–Theodore Roosevelt, our bellicose Bull Moose 26th president.
–Mother Theresa whose good deeds were negated by her obduracy regarding population control.
–Yasser Arafat, head of a terrorist organization who walked away from President Clinton’s peace proposal which had been agreed to by then-Israeli Premier, Ehud Barak. Because of Arafat, many Israeli peaceniks turned into hard-liners.
Barack Obama’s award was partly based on a speech called
“A New Beginning” which he gave in Cairo in June of 2009. In this speech, he stressed the need for the Western and the Islamic World to live side by side, in mutual respect. It was a speech of conciliation and, having just reread it, I thought it disingenuous. It equated Islam with the Western World, disregarding its egregious sins against women, its intolerance of other belief systems and its general intransigent attitude toward alternative behavior. Yes, we all know that Islam was a shining light in the Middle Ages whilst the West was plunged in darkness. Since then, however, the West went through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and continues to evolve, while Islam has stopped and has become ossified.
Barack Obama must have felt under an obligation to deserve his Nobel Prize because he has slowly been moving towards creating a better world. Starting at home, he recognized that black young men were becoming an endangered species because of a disparity in education and employment and an unfair criminal justice system. He created “My Brother’s Keeper,” a program which seeks to provide incentives and opportunities for black youth and improve their lives. In supporting prison reform, Obama recently visited a federal corrections facility (the first President ever to do so) and promised to work toward overhauling the American justice system. He wants to improve prison conditions and eliminate excessive sentencing. By executive action, he has already taken steps to commute sentences for low-level criminals.
Continuing abroad, he has spearheaded the rapprochement with Cuba. The President saw the absurdity of our non-recognition of Cuba’s existence while we had normal relations with far more hostile and uncooperative countries. He started redressing that anomaly, opening doors, letting fresh air in, encouraging travel and encounters. Engaging Cuba leads to a better outcome for their people, allows us to visit their country, and comes at absolutely no risk for us.
Now, he has successfully negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement. This agreement lifts economic sanctions against Iran (Obama had strengthened them in 2010) in exchange for its giving up the development of a nuclear weapon. Nobody thinks this is a perfect deal. Many people believe that it is better than no deal at all. According to John Kerry, it is the only alternative to military action and he urged Congress to ratify it. If Iran continues on its path to nuclear capability, other countries will rush to do the same and it will create a nuclear Middle East.
Regarding Guantanamo Prison, Obama’s administration is continuing to press ahead with a plan to close the US Military Base at Guantanamo Bay, sending low level criminals to other countries, bringing others to trial and holding some as prisoners of war.
Imperceptibly, while no one was paying attention, Barack Obama undertook these actions which, when added up, amount to an impressive effort to improve the world around us. He has now earned the Nobel Prize he was given.