Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thoughts from the Left about Obama's "Prize"

The spin now being generated to justify President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is curious, as well as amusing. Obama acolytes are busily revising history. It seems that previous recipients of the Prize were not honored, after all, for the well-known reasons given at the time. Instead, like Obama, recipients from Theodore Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson to Nelson Mandela were given the Prize for what they might accomplish in the future, for the potential they represented. Those recipients' concrete "achievements," specified in Nobel documents and during the award ceremonies, are to be flushed down the memory hole.

So many news outlets have made a fuss about the negative "conservative" response to the news that Obama has been awarded the Peace Prize. The rightwingers are not alone. Here are excerpts from perspectives by writers on the political left.

Glenn Greenwald in Obama's Nobel Peace Prize:

When I saw this morning's top New York Times headline -- "Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize" -- I had the same immediate reaction which I'm certain many others had: this was some kind of bizarre Onion gag that got accidentally transposed onto the wrong website, that it was just some sort of strange joke someone was playing. Upon further reflection, that isn't all that far from the reaction I still have. And I say that despite my belief that -- as critical as I've been of the Obama presidency regarding civil liberties and Terrorism -- foreign affairs is actually one area where he's shown genuine potential for some constructive "change" ...

All that said, these changes are completely preliminary, which is to be expected given that he's only been in office nine months. For that reason, while Obama's popularity has surged in Western Europe, the changes in the Muslim world in terms of how the U.S. is perceived have been small to nonexistent. As Der Spiegel put it in the wake of a worldwide survey in July: "while Europe's ardor for Obama appears fervent, he has actually made little progress in the regions where the US faces its biggest foreign policy problems." People who live in regions that have long been devastated by American weaponry don't have the luxury of being dazzled by pretty words and speeches. ...

But far more important than the lack of actual accomplishments are some of the policies over which Obama has presided that are the very opposite of peace. ... Beyond Afghanistan, Obama continues to preside over another war -- in Iraq: remember that? -- where no meaningful withdrawal has occurred. He uttered not a peep of opposition to the Israeli massacre of Gazan civilians at the beginning of this year (using American weapons), one which a U.N. investigator just found constituted war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. ...

He's worked tirelessly to protect his country not only from accountability -- but also transparency ... And he is currently presiding over an expansion of the legal black hole at Bagram while aggressively demanding the right to abduct people from around the world, ship them there, and then imprison them indefinitely with no rights of any kind.

It's certainly true that Obama inherited, not started, these conflicts. And it's possible that he could bring about their end, along with an overall change in how America interacts with the world in terms of actions, not just words. ... Someone who made meaningful changes to those realities would truly be a man of peace. It's unreasonable to expect that Obama would magically transform all of this in nine months, and he certainly hasn't. Instead, he presides over it and is continuing much of it.
• • •

Michael Russnow in Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Laureate: Whatever Happened to Awarding for Deeds Actually Done?:

I am generally a supporter of Barack Obama. I voted for him and campaigned in print for his election. However, as I turned on CNN early this morning and saw the news that he'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I actually gasped in disbelief. ... As the 2 a.m. CNN commentator interviewed Norwegian experts and past Peace Laureates, just about all of them repeated the obvious: Obama was being honored for the hope of what he might accomplish as opposed to what he has actually achieved. ... Whatever one might feel about Obama, he has not earned this singular award. Few American presidents have received it and of those who have it was bestowed after they'd been engaged in something special. Theodore Roosevelt had helped to negotiate peace in the Russo-Japanese War. Woodrow Wilson had tirelessly worked for the creation of the League of Nations ...

So, at the moment, I believe it is enormously premature for Obama to be getting this great tribute, which to a certain extent cheapens the prior recipients and the work all of them performed over so many years. ... Obama's designation is akin to giving an Oscar to a young director for films we hope that he or she will produce or for a first-time published author getting a Pulitzer for a book he is destined to write some day.
• • •

Naomi Klein on Democracy Now! (10/9/09):

Even just listening to the rationale that, despite overwhelming evidence, they’re giving this prize in the hopes that it will change Obama’s mind or encourage him to do things he hasn’t done—this is a candidate that ran a campaign that was much more based on hope and wishful thinking than it was on concrete policy. So we have hopes being piled on hope and wishful thinking. This is supposed to be a prize that rewards concrete behavior, concrete action. And there are many people out there in the world who were under consideration for this prize who, every day, perform acts that are taken at enormous risk for concrete benefit. ...

I think the moment of just rewarding Obama for awakening hope and optimism has clearly passed. And we certainly see this in the context of Israel-Palestine, where there was a huge amount of hope that was awakened and inspired by Obama’s rhetoric, by his historic Cairo speech. But now we’re past that moment. He didn’t just give that speech yesterday. And now is the moment when we’re seeing his actual commitment to change. And it has been one disappointment after the next. ...

As we know, the US has more than moral suasion to use with the Netanyahu government, if it’s really opposed to settlement expansion. There are billions of military aid that, of course, is never put on the table. And after a little bit of moral suasion failed, we see the same defeatism setting in. ... In the middle of all this, the Nobel Prize Committee awards their top honors to Obama. And I think it’s quite insulting. I don’t know what kind of political game they’re playing, but I don’t think that the committee has ever been as political as this or as delusional as this, frankly.
• • •

Mickey Kaus in What Obama Should Do With His Nobel Peace Prize:

Turn it down! Politely decline. Say he's honored but he hasn't had the time yet to accomplish what he wants to accomplish.

Result: He gets at least the same amount of glory--and helps solve his narcissism problem and his Fred Armisen ('What's he done?') problem, demonstrating that he's uncomfortable with his reputation as a man overcelebrated for his potential long before he's started to realize it.

Plus he doesn't have to waste time, during a fairly crucial period, working on yet another grand speech.

And the downside is ... what? That the Nobel Committee feels dissed?

No comments: