Monday, June 24, 2024

Whatever the Norwegian Nobel Committee was thinking in awarding its Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, it’s funny to imagine his reaction this morning in getting the call: Something approaching consternation, I would think, or bemusement with a little cringing. At eight and a half months into a presidency, the award is almost absurd, and he certainly couldn’t have been expecting it.

But the award makes sense from an international point of view when looking at the language the committee uses in its announcement: It applauds the  “new climate in international politics” Obama has created and notes that “multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position.

This seems to be a “You’re not George W. Bush” award, in that Bush acted recklessly and unilaterally and imposed a sheen of multilateralism by dragging other nations along its path — trapped in the gravitational field of the United States by its very mass even when Bush seemed to be speeding the country toward a black hole. (Screaming, for most of his eight years in office, “Yee-haw!” or “Lord, we’re a-comin’!”)

Domestically, Obama has stumbled into a Nobel Peace Prize for selfish reasons: He’s continuing the reform of the U.S. image that began with his election. First he shows a biracial person with a Kenyan name can become president, presenting a new face to a world that knows the United States as racist and hostile to Muslims and Arabs, empire-builders friendly to Israel. He is calm and speaks coherently. (And he doesn’t touch Angela Merkel inappropriately.) He commits to talking with anyone, including Iran and North Korea, unconditionally. He renews the call for nuclear disarmament, including his own country instead of merely targeting others. He acknowledges the United Nations with respect instead of disdain, and in fact promotes its work. He even takes pains to be correct in his pronunciation of names and phrases in other languages.

What’s selfish about this is that I suspect much of it is intended specifically to diminish Islamist rage against the United States — to give Islamist terrorists or those sympathetic to them pause in selecting this country as a target. It’s in essence a one-person charm offensive designed to counteract such U.S. foreign relations disasters as Radio Sawa, the Middle East Television Network and earlier, darkly comical attempts at a pro-America marketing campaign for the Middle East.

With the recent rousting of terrorists in three incidents around the country, all of whom were planning attacks and two of whom were duped by the FBI into thinking they’d actually pulled off attacks, Obama’s charm offensive looks like a failure.

But in the long term, meaning for a coming generation of potential threats, it may work. And Obama’s efforts just got a significant boost from the Nobel committee, which respects any effort to ratchet down tension around the world.

“You’re not George W. Bush,” the committee is saying. “Good move.”