Nobel Peace Prize Winner President Barack Obama: A Modest Defense

–Richard E. Vatz

If you’re like me, you woke up to the stunning news that President Barack Obama did not win the 2009 Nobel Prize for literature. The award went instead to Herta Mueller, the Romanian writer who wrote of atrocities she suffered under Communist rule in Romania. To believe the Nobel Committee could overlook President Obama’s Change We Can Believe In, a work that adumbrated the changes that have already brought us a booming economy and peace in our time…well, it is just the historic discrimination against African-American writers.

Slightly compensatorily, President Barack Obama did win the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Without adequate reflection, the naysayers immediately protested, “What has President Obama accomplished?” If he was nominated within two weeks of the onset of his presidency, how could he qualify for a peace prize that had gone to such Nobel personifications of peace as Elie Wiesel (1986), Desmond Tutu (1984), and Lech Walesa (1983) ?

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First of all, any such a comparison is arbitrary…the Nobel Peace Prize has also gone to Jimmy Carter (2002) who brought us lasting peace with Iran through his calling off a rescue mission for American hostages which would have got the Iranians really angry, and Yasser Arafat (1994), and who doesn’t know what lasting effects he has had for peace in the Middle East?

Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, petulantly accuses the Nobel Committee of giving President Obama “a ribbon before the race,” arguing that the President has not yet accomplished much regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the impending nuclear weaponizing of Iran, the manifest nuclear weaponizing of North Korea, pacifying Afghanistan, and stopping the atrocities in the Congo or the conflict in Darfur.

Picky, picky, picky.

Moreover, Mr. Gerson, President Obama has “hope,” and if one looks at the history of world conflict, one can see the consistent effectiveness of leaders who hope. I suppose Mr. Gerson was similar to those who in 1939 denied a Nobel prize to Neville Chamberlain, who through the Munich Agreement in 1938 kept peace for a full year.

In addition, even if his nomination occurred within two weeks of the beginning of his presidency, President Obama was “hoping” long before he became president. The Audacity of Hope was written over three years ago.

Yes, President Barack Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, and, if I must be specific, it is not just for what the Committee calls his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” or his call for a nuclear weapon-free world. (The accomplishment of the latter is probably just months, if not weeks, away.)

It is just as compellingly for his being troubled regarding Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weaponry and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and, equally, for his resolution in the Afghanistan conflict wherein he is going to make sure that we have a policy soon.

May I suggest a slogan that does honor to the peaceiest leader in the world, our newest, most deserving Nobel Prize winner:

“Peace for a Short While.”

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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