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Obama and the Peace Prize

This morning it was announced that Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I’ve been in a state of shock and am still not quite sure what can possibly be said. Only that it feels like a terrible mistake, a profound blow to an institution with so much potential for recognizing and encouraging good in the world. Obama isn’t even halfway through his first term, and one should hope that his most important accomplishments still lay ahead. In his time in office, as Jake Olzen wrote here yesterday, he has taken ownership of the disastrous wars that he inherited. We are still waiting for a definitive break with the endless militarism that has been American policy since World War II. We are still waiting for heath care reform, for a sensible energy and environmental policy, and for a real solution to the economic crisis—all things that were promised on the campaign trail.

Perhaps most troubling of all, though, is the impact that this prize could have on Obama’s ability to accomplish these vital goals. His efforts have already begun to polarize the country and Congress in profound ways. This nod from Europe—from countries deeply mistrusted by the American Right—may only inflame their fears that he is trying to implement a European-style welfare state (which, of course, is far from the truth of his disappointingly modest proposals). I imagine that the Nobel Foundation hopes to support Obama in his efforts, particularly in his work for nuclear nonproliferation and international cooperation. I’m glad they are. But they should also be able to recognize that this prize may not be the best way to do so.

At Waging Nonviolence, we try to shed more light on the remarkable work of people all over the world fighting for peace. This announcement only shows how much what we offer is needed. It shows a lack of imagination. There are so many others for whom receiving this award would have been more deserved and who could have done more good with the attention and money that it represents. I suspect that even Obama might agree.

These are just a few initial reactions. We’re still thinking through how to respond, and we’d love to hear from you. What do you think? And is there anyone else you think the prize should have been given to?