What Will Obama's Nobel Mean for America?

The peace prize could signal a new beginning for America's role in the world, or backfire by inflaming Obama's opposition

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President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize has attracted considerable debate and controversy about whether his accomplishments deserve such recognition. (At least one pundit thinks Nobel Peace Prizes are "aspirational" and designed to encourage peace rather than retrospectively reward efforts to cultivate it.) Despite the push for Obama to decline the prize, he has announced that he will travel to Oslo to accept it. What will this most international of prizes mean of him and for America? Some argue it could be a boon for American interests abroad, while others believe it could backfire by inflaming Obama's opposition.

  • Prize Could Be Diplomatic Tool Marc Ambinder suggests Obama use the Nobel to further American goals abroad. "Winning the award is one thing; figuring out how to use it to accomplish things, to pressure Iran, to bring the Palestinians and Israelis back to the final table, to bring the bloodshed in Darfur to a close -- this is what Obama needs to figure out," he writes. "And as irritating as this may be to European diplomats, regaining some stature at the United Nations, or among the peoples of the world, even with this aspirational prize, is probably going to help the President internationally."
  • A Boost in Europe, Not in MidEast Michael Crowley predicts an increased standing in Europe. "Overseas, the Nobel might help marginally--although in some ways not at all. It's impossible to imagine the news from Stockholm moving either the Israelis or the Arabs to make peace-process concessions. (Neither Bibi Netanyahu nor King Abdullah are great sentimentalists.) The award is a useful affirmation to Obama's faith in internationalism on issues like global warming and nuclear disarmament. And it's likely to re-energize his standing in Europe, from whence it comes, and where such honorifics carry the most currency. But there's an irony here: Obama doesn't need Europe's help primarily for achieving world peace. He needs NATO support for putting a lid on Afghanistan, and Germany and France's backing for tough economic sanctions on Iran should diplomacy fail to defang its nuclear program. The most important impact of this prize may be a slight boost in Obama's ability to pursue a war and confront his Persian rivals."
  • Helps Obama's Peace-Promoting Agenda Robert Naiman argues the Nobel committee wants to help Obama out, citing the prize's aspirational quality. "The Nobel Committee gave South African Bishop Desmond Tutu the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership of efforts to abolish apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid wasn't fully abolished in South Africa until 1994. The committee could have waited until after apartheid was abolished to say, 'Well done!' But the point of the award was to help bring down apartheid by strengthening Bishop Tutu's efforts. In particular, everyone knew that it was going to be much harder for the apartheid regime to crack down on Tutu after the Nobel Committee wrapped him in its protective cloak of world praise. That's what the Nobel Committee is trying to do for Obama now. It's giving an award to encourage the change in world relations that Obama has promised, and to try to help shield Obama against his domestic adversaries."
  • Wrongly Excuses Obama's Capitulations Glenn Greenwald worries that this will give Obama free pass for his hedges on Afghanistan and torture. "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. Already this year, he not only escalated the American war in Afghanistan, but has ordered air raids that have produced things like this," he writes. "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. If he does that, he would deserve immense credit -- perhaps even a Nobel Peace Prize. But he hasn't done any of that. And it's at least as possible that he'll do the opposite: that he'll continue to escalate the 8-year occupation of Afghanistan, preside over more conflict in Iraq, end up in a dangerous confrontation with Iran, and continue to preserve many of the core Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies that created such a stain on America's image and character around the world."
  • Inflaming the Right Marc Ambinder warns that the anti-Obama far right will become even angrier. "[O]ne argument I'm hearing and reading from Democrats and others who are skeptical of the prize: it will turn the volume and enthusiasm level all the way to the extreme end of the dial for conservatives -- overmodulating at 110%; the resulting hyperpolarization will hurt Obama's agenda."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.