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The Aspirational Nobel | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

The Aspirational Nobel

I woke up, read the New York Times website and thought I had come to the Onion instead. I hit refresh. Still there: "Obama Wins Nobel for Diplomacy." Maybe this is one of my weird work-related dreams, I thought. Maybe I am still drunk from last night's party. Better close my eyes and wake up again in the real world. Five minutes later...and still no dice.

Yes, Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. My first reaction is that this is going to be a test of how much crazier Orly Taitz and the Republican Anti-Christers can get. Not only does this prove that Obama is a socialist svengali--because he got the Norwegians to vote for him, probably as part of some UN-takeover of America--it also proves that Obama is piggy. Anti-Christs are so like that; they want everything right now (and losing the 2016 Olympics was just a red herring).

But back in reality, I'm still a little bewildered. It's as if the Nobel Committee gave Obama the award for behaving like a normal American president, instead of like a clueless corrupt cowboy.

The Committee insists this is not an aspirational prize, no carrot to make the United States and its president better neighbors. Thobjorn Jagland, the former prime minister of Norway who chaired this year's committee, insists that it's for work the president has already accomplished, for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

"We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year," Jagland said. The announcement, which takes special note of Obama's anti-nukes position, says that Obama has "created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play...thanks to Obama's initiative, the United States is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened."

These Nobel sentiments, however, are aspirational in my view. Obama doesn't deserve the prize, yet.

Yes, the president has said he wants a world free of nuclear weapons, but as Jonathan Schell wrote in our pages, he has a long way to go before that vision becomes reality. That path must include the US Senate ratifying the comprehensive test ban treaty, and even a full court press from the White House can't guarantee that will happen this fall.

Then there's the matter of Obama's multilateralism and partnering with the UN. As Naomi Klein pointed out, the Obama administration, like its predecessor, boycotted the UN Durban anti-racism conference, using the flap over language on Israel-Palestine as an excuse to duck the actual issues about racial justice the conference cautiously raised. As for climate change, Obama has yet to commit to attending the December climate change conference in Copenhagen, and if that jaunt to Denmark is going to succeed in reducing carbon emissions, the US will have to bring a lot more to the table than it is currently offering.

I could go on: fully closing Gitmo and restoring civil liberties and compliance with the Geneva Conventions; negotiating with Iran in good faith; withdrawing from Iraq and, of course, withdrawal from Afghanistan. Escalation, or even maintaining the status quo there, would alone discredit this award in history's eyes.

Obama got a nice vote of confidence from the Norwegians for his promises. But now, he has to actually earn the Nobel with his deeds. That will be hard to do if his administration continues to send such mixed signals on international cooperation and diplomacy.

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