Improbable Victory: Revisiting Obama’s Nobel Prize

Update: on the heels of his Nobel win, Obama’s popularity is up to 56%, from 50%. Just another reminder that the whackjobs “upset” over Friday’s big news may talk big, but they don’t have the numbers to back it up.

I never thought I’d see the day — but O’Reilly gets it. As I said on Friday, whether or not Obama “deserved” the award, when the American President receives the Nobel Peace Prize, it helps us, as Americans, if not us, as Democrats or Republicans. So, a momentary note on perspective.

The conservative reaction to Obama’s receipt of the prize — shared by some liberals — is that Obama has done nothing to deserve the Prize. From the conservative perspective, Obama has weakened America abroad while ushering in a new era of socialism (the horror!). From the liberal perspective, Obama has made a lot of promises, and fulfilled few. In brief, from any American perspective, the Prize is questionable. If it was given on the merits, it’s premature; if intended as a “gift” of political capital (from Norway, with love), hopelessly misguided.

That judgment, however, assumes that we, as Americans, were the Award’s intended audience. I don’t think we were. It’s easy to forget the importance of the American image is abroad. But we are, remember, the world’s last remaining superpower, the unquestioned hegemon. Accordingly, President Obama’s decision to participate once more in the world America helped create is momentous. Simply put, unilateralism looks a lot different, and a lot more menacing, from the other side. From that perspective, Obama’s presence in office, and his efforts to engage the world once again, are worthy of reward. We’re all citizens of the world, and for once, the American President is saying as much. The Nobel Peace Prize recognizes this fundamental change of tone, first, but more importantly, reaffirms it to those with lingering suspicions worldwide. As O’Reilly said (shudder), it’s good for the world to hear “America” and “Peace” in the same sentence again.

Finally, a note on the substance of Obama’s “Peace.” I’ve heard from more than a few on my side of the aisle that, because we’re still in Afghanistan, Obama certainly doesn’t deserve the prize. It’s as if they expected War itself to die, just because a Democrat took the Oval Office.

That was never in the cards. Obama didn’t campaign on it, it’s not feasible, and it’s not even desirable. Human nature itself forecloses the possibility of an utter end to warfare and, as long as fundamentalist Islam remains a threat, the ball’s not really in our court. There is such a thing as a defensive war, and it’s important to fight those. Afghanistan’s a prime example. Until the country can be put on her feet, under better leadership, we can’t risk creating a power vacuum by leaving prematurely.

So, did Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, that’s a matter of perspective. Is it good for the country? Unquestionably. If the Republican Party’s version of patriotism covered more than those parts of the country over which they exercise control (“Real America” — an ever-decreasing area), then maybe they could see that.



  1. I understand, though I disagree with, the notion that this is something to be proud of for those Americans who are more intetrested in world opinion than the rest of us. I get that. But as far as this being’good for America’ that makes little sense. Are are any foreign leaders any more inclined to think of the US differently because 5 Norwegians gave a Nobel to Obama prematurely? Are the Israelis and Palestinans going to be more inclined to make peace? Are Al Qaeda and our other enemies going to lay down their arms? Will our allies suddenly begin to contribute the troops they promised in Afghanistan?

    The truth is that the world hasn’t moved an inch because of this award, so saying it is ‘good for America’ as anything other than an appeal to liberal vanity is a huge stretch.

  2. O’Reilly said something reasonable? Will wonders never cease. Though I am reminded of the adage about the broken clock…

  3. Good analysis. As the ‘Leader of the Free World,’ Obama’s every word and gesture become magnified in the eyes of the international community. The award is for his changing the remaining superpower’s apparent deaf ears and arrogance to willingness to discuss issues and reconcile positions. Just because we’re inside the nation he leads doesn’t lessen the impact of these moves, it merely makes it harder to perceive. The award isn’t in the best tradition of former Peace Prizes, but it certainly is no mistake. And contrary to Mike, above, I believe it does have an affect upon potential players in international issues: it makes it a little more likely that people will agree with his proposals given that the world has already seen him to be a reasonable, positive person worthy of substantive praise.

    Nice blog, btw.

  4. Wow. I hadn’t expected that from O’Reilley.

    I’d comment on that, but Hell suddenly called in this large order for mittens and earwarmers…

  5. Not a bad post, but don’t get too caught up in the last remaining superpower. An ascending China is already a de facto superpower – foreign policy experts may quibble over X or Y benchmark they need to meet, but in absolutely simplest terms: we won’t act freely in their sphere of influence. They’re a superpower.

    1. I would consider China a great power, but not a superpower. She lacks the ability to influence events outside her sphere of influence, although she can deter action in her own sphere. Further, the extent of China’s ability to defend its own interests is itself questionable. We don’t formally recognize Taiwan, and we kicked her out of the UN and gave her seat to China, but we do routinely sell Taiwan AEGIS destroyers, and have pledged to defend it. That bizarre tension suggests to me that we have the upper hand.

      1. She lacks the ability to influences events…? Does count? How about ? ?

  6. Wow, ok, I screwed the pooch on coding that. Those are links to China’s dealings with Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba, respectively.

  7. Something about a superpower concerning itself with its image abroad seems very perverse to me, and self-contradictory. Superpower, from “super” and “power”, implies an overwhelming advantage of strength. Which as I see it, means you don’t need the approval of others since they only continue to exist by your sufferance – you’re a superpower, that means you can annihilate them at whim. A superpower needing good image, that’s like Sparta needing the Helots’ approval.

    So as I see it, either America needs a good image abroad, or America’s a superpower, but I think the two are mutually exclusive.

    1. Uh, where have you been the last eight years? The Moon?

      Because if the Bush approach to foreign policy doesn’t illustrate why ignoring soft power is a Very Bad Thing, I don’t know what does.

      1. Really? I think our coalition going into Afghanistan could be fairly described as built on ‘soft power’. How many foreign troops are still there?

        1. “You forgot Poland.”


      2. You know it is possible America’s not really a superpower any more…

        But yes, the way ignoring soft power devastated our economy because of all those boycotts and embargoes against us was a very bad thing… no, wait, it was overpopulation, inflation, and overemphasis of the service sectors, especially finance, that gutted our economy. Soft power had no impact.

        It was really a bad thing the way ignoring soft power made that country invade us… No, wait, I mean it was really a bad thing the way ignoring soft power made that country bombard us… it was really a bad thing the way ignoring soft power made us unable to stop the terrorists… it was really a bad thing the way ignoring soft power made illegal immigration increase…

        We ignored soft power and that made the rest of the world suppress free speech in the name of “preventing hate and bigotry”… which actually is a Very Bad thing for the rest of the world, but that’s the world’s own damned fault and it doesn’t affect us at all.

        We ignored soft power and… it had no tangible effect on us. Yes, it made the rest of the world dislike us, but hurt feelings is no basis for making foreign policy decisions.

        And really, the Bush approach to foreign policy only had two flaws I can think of: Iraq and Afghanistan, and neither of those fuckups were due to ignoring soft power. They were due to misusing hard power by having no well-defined goal, having no strategy tailored to achieving that ill-defined goal, and deploying the the wrong forces to achieve that vague goal.

        Look, take something like the Defamation of Religion excuse that’s started to be used to justify oppression in Europe and Asia. The soft power approach is “We’re going to try and ask nicely and subtly influence yall into not wanting to make us do that too.” The superpower approach is “Yall can go ahead and do whatever you want among yourselves, but the second you say a word about us doing it, you end up like Tokyo and Dresden.” And it’s the superpower approach that will always work, because when a superpower says “your nation will become extinct if you mess with us”, it isn’t a threat, it’s a statement of fact.

        1. * applause*

          We used soft power to get allies to help us in Afghanistan…where are they now? We used soft power to get them to help us in Iraq…where are they now? The problem with soft power is that you have no ability to stop wishy-washy Europeans from changing their minds as the wind blows.

        2. Mike, it should seem obvious to anyone that this is not a problem with soft power in general, but precisely due to the Bush administration effectively throwing away the virtually unlimited supply of soft power it had in the wake of 9/11.

          Also, your allegations here are factually wrong and I find them fairly distasteful. European troops have been in Afghanistan since December 2001, and remain there to this day. You’re very welcome.

          European troops also participated in the Iraq war for several years, and were only pulled out when it became obvious that the situation was turning into a hopeless mess which, frankly, the Americans started and would have to solve on their own. How’s your precious hard power working out on that, by the way?

      3. Right…

        Hey, have you checked out China’s holdings of US securities lately? Crossed $800 billion back in July, not to mention their $2 trillion foreign reserves.

        I wonder what’d happen to the US economy if they were to sell some of that, or even just said they would. Can that problem be solved by turning Beijing into another Dresden?

        (Hint: It can’t.)

        1. I wonder what would happen to China’s economy if they sabotaged their own $2 trillion reserves…

          Welcome to the new cold war.

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