Dear friend and cogent thinker and writer Dan Middleton just offered this terrific comment:
Like everyone else on Friday morning of last week, I was initially incredulous at the announcement of President Obama’s recognition as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Sometimes a news event of great magnitude seems so initially peculiar–or in the case of national tragedies like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, terrifyingly disturbing–that all we can do is watch it unfold and try to comprehend what is initially incomprehensible. In the case of the prize, I was stunned because it seemed so implausible and I understood some of the skepticism (“…but what has he done?…or, “hey, I love the guy….but…come on!”).
But as I thought about it for a bit and reflected on what others were saying, and after reading the content of the Nobel committee’s citation, it all made sense. Indeed, I thought it a canny choice, not because of the meme some on the Right are pushing (i.e., that Europe is trying to emasculate America’s ability to be the dominant global power), but as a political mechanism to welcome America back to the interconnected place the world has become.
President Obama understands hard power and is debating with the military industrial complex and his own conscious about how to use it wisely in Afghanistan and Pakistan (I don’t envy him; it is one hell of a problem).
But he also understands the great importance and great potential of soft power in the 21st Century. Technology and more equitable distributions of economic opportunity, particularly in Brazil, East Asia, and India have diminished the US/Eurocentric financial and military dominance which defined international relations in the 20th century. The G-8 is now the G-20, Lulu is a global player, the Chinese are inexorably moving ahead. America has no choice but participate in meaningful ways as the community of nations struggle with age old enmities and new challenges, global warming being the most paramount.
President Obama is practical and unsentimental, but also deeply moral. His multicultural upbringing and life story of a somewhat lonely dark skinned man seeking an identity, a niche, gives him a perspective no other US president has had. He realizes that as intractible as the world’s problems can seem, the moral path to greater human liberty must be attempted multilaterally because what one human does inevitably affects another (as he has said repeatedly, “We are all our brothers and sisters keepers…who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect”). I think this prize reflects the Nobel Committee’s recognition that President Obama’s unique life story and his unique role as President of the United States make him not just a symbol of multinational problem solving and the never ending quest for greater justice, but a true standard bearer as we continue into the future.
War is not over and will never entirely end, suffering and injustice is not over and will never entirely end, but humankind must persist in our striving for better days ahead.
Despite his political caution which can exasperate even his strongest supporters, President Obama has an extremely rare ability to inspire and give people around the world the hope to aspire. His detractors say it’s just pretty speech making, as ephemeral as a wisp of perfume in the air. I disagree. If President Obama keeps emphasizing multilateral problem solving, science, and human justice, (which he undoubtedly will for the rest of life) his achievements will not just be aspirational, but tangible.
It is a difficult journey that is just beginning, and like any difficult journey there will be setbacks and even contradictions. After all, America is now active in two theaters of war. But this prize is about the future and what may become. It is about a gifted leader who can urge and help fashion collective responses to collective problems.
I am proud of my President and happy for my country.