The Nobel Peace Prize jury had two audiences in mind last week in awarding the prize to President Barack Obama. The first was the American public. The panel sought to reassure Americans that the Olympic Games fiasco notwithstanding, the world still loves your new president and you should too. The second was President Obama himself. In the manner of good parents, the jury offered positive reinforcement to Obama for the course upon which he has embarked.
Such manipulations are old hat for the Nobel Peace Prize jury. In the last decade the peace prize has been used twice to provide legitimacy to discredited international organizations. In 2001, it went to U.N. Secretary-General Kobi Annan, at a time when top U.N. bureaucrats and Annan's own son stood revealed for their involvement in a billion dollar Oil-for-Food scam with Saddam Hussein, U.N. humanitarian workers were raping children in Africa, and the Ghanaian Annan had utterly failed to stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in various African hotspots.
In 2006, the prize went to Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for refusing to point the finger at Iran in a way that would force the West to act to stymie Iran's nuclear ambitions. (Even the more respectable Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Paul Krugman, decades after his last significant work in economics, for his non-stop hectoring of President Bush as a New York Times columnist.)
With respect to the American public, the Nobel Peace Prize will likely prove more of an embarrassment than boost to Obama. A prize previously won by unrepentant, arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat and former President Jimmy Carter, who is on every short-list of worst American presidents and who presided over the greatest diminution of American power in history, confers little luster on its recipient. President Obama may not appreciate the association with such past winners.
Even worse from the President's point of view, the award can only serve to emphasize the paucity of his achievements and provide further grist for late-night comedians. Six days before it was announced, an Obama impersonator on Saturday Night Live parodied the President's lack of achievements:
"When you look at my record, it's very clear what I have done so far. And that is nothing. Almost one year and nothing to show for it. You don't believe me? You think I'm making it up? Take a look at this checklist."
Receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize can only arouse more questions about the President's successes to date. At least two bloggers -- one at the New York Times website and another on that of the left-wing Nation – wrote that their first reaction was to wonder how the satirical weekly The Onion had managed to infiltrate Google's website. Alert to the potential embarrassment created by the award, President Obama wisely admitted that he was not quite sure that he had yet earned it.
THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE JURY will likely prove more successful with its second intended audience: Barack Obama. No American president has more assiduously courted worldwide adulation. In his frequent travels, he has often seemed to be running for President of the World. The pursuit of international favor has included round-the-world apology tours, in which just about every problem faced any place visited by the President was attributed to some form of past American wrongdoing. The President and his media acolytes have often treated popularity as itself an achievement.
Yet while the President's trips abroad have proven major hits with the locals, they have not translated into tangible results with foreign leaders. The President failed to convince Western leaders to contribute additional soldiers to American and British efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan. And European central bankers pointedly rejected every request from President Obama to further stimulate their economies by increasing government deficits. (Rightly, it turns out, as those countries that employed the most deficit spending – the United States, Great Britain, and Italy – are emerging last from the recession.)
If popularity has not translated with friends, it has yielded even fewer fruits with enemies. North Korea has continued with underground testing of nuclear weapons and to test longer-range missiles. Worse still, Iran continues to ramp up its enrichment of uranium and dramatically improve its missile capacity.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy publicly scorched Obama at the G-20 conference for his naivete about nuclear disarmament – the President's commitment to which was one of the reasons cited Peace Prize committee in its award citation. Even dramatic reductions in American and Russian nuclear weapons will not make the world one whit safer, while under Obama's nose genuine rogue states like Iran and North Korea are going nuclear with nary a hand lifted to stop them, Sarkozy charged.
THOSE WHO COURT FAVOR are particularly vulnerable to flattery. Obama knows why he was awarded the prize and will be loath to disappoint his admirers in Oslo. That should be of particular concern to Israelis. Norway has been a world leader in anti-Israel boycotts, and the Norwegians who awarded the prize to Obama clearly signaled their approval for his distancing of the United States from Israel in the quest for Middle East peace. That he has only made a negotiated peace more unlikely in the process hardly matters to them, since their preference is for a solution imposed on Israel.
But American's have cause for concern too. European resent upstart America for its status as the world's richest, most powerful, most dynamic nation, and the one most committed to the spread of freedom to other peoples. That resentment was exemplified in the Bush years by the reflexive opposition of Jacques Chirac in France and Gerhard Schroeder in Germany to every American initiative.
Alone among American presidents, Obama evinces no belief in Lincoln's description of America as "the last, best hope of mankind." Any admiration of America is chiefly expressed in terms of its wisdom in electing him president. In his eagerness to shackle American power to the U.N. and his pursuit of a statist economy on European models, Obama has set America on course for European-style decline as well. Nothing plays better in Europe.
The Nobel Committee cited Obama for his recognition that leadership must be based on "values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population." Among those values -- whatever they may be -- freedom and democracy do not rank high. Nor have they in the Obama administration's foreign policy. He has studiously ignored the pleas of brutally suppressed protesters in Iran (who would truly have been worthy of a Nobel Prize); preferred appeasement of neo-czarist Russia over the emergent democracies in Poland and Czechoslovakia, while receiving nothing in return; spoken in Cairo of a Moslem woman's right to wear a hijab, but not of her right not to; and somehow contrived to ally the United States with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and Cuba in support of Honduras's wannabe president-for-life Manuel Zelaya against the country"s entire Supreme Court, legislature, and civil society. Kowtowing to enemies, while dissing friends, may be popular among Norwegian elites, but it is does not command respect, which is ultimately much more important in international relations than popularity.
Americans should pray that their president remembers that he was elected President of the United States, not savior of the world.