The astounding news has reached the baffled ears and eyes of the world today that the Storting, Norway’s national Parliament, has incongruously decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the American President Barack Obama. The official statement appears to imply it is essentially an award of encouragement, which is itself also strange – so far, Nobel Peace Prizes had almost always been given either for lifetime achievement or for a specific occasion, such as a peace treaty. Recently, the Storting committee had expanded its range somewhat by including activism for environmental issues as well as for providing credit to the Third World ‘deserving poor’, but this seems another territory altogether.
Indeed, it is probably correct to state that the great rhetorical capacities of Obama, his charisma unparallelled by any current world leader, and the momentous event itself of the election of the first US President who is considered a racial minority, have all combined served to lift up and inspire the hearts of the peoples of the world. Although their hopes are bound to be dashed on the rocks of American liberal politics, it is no good to kill the rare chances of inspiration and hope for the part of the oppressed and exploited majority of the world by strangling them with cynicism. Yet it must be pointed out that the United States under Obama has barely altered its relentlessly imperialist foreign policy. Troops have still not been fully withdrawn from Iraq, the war against Afghanistan is continuing at full pace and even drawing in more soldiers despite the continued failure to achieve any lasting result that would justify it, and the American attitude towards its prisoners of war is still less than ideal. Under Obama, there has been no significant break with the anti-Arabic and pro-Israel policies of the United States, despite his rhetorical rapprochement with muslims worldwide; nor has the United States eased its constant aggressive posture towards Iran. The United States remains by far the world’s largest arms dealer, it has still not signed and ratified many of the most basic international legal treaties, and it still repudiates the International Criminal Court because it fears being held accountable for its actions.
The warm feelings of Europeans towards the new President are surely based on their relief of being finally rid of the much detested George W. Bush as well as the justified appreciation of America’s uncommonly progressive wave of enthousiasm in electing their first black President. Nonetheless, this is no reason to behave like star-struck fans standing in line for the signature of their favorite celebrity. If there is to be peace, there must first be the will to achieve it, and this cannot be done without the “ruthless criticism of all that exists” to point out where and how this will is failing. President Obama should be no exception to this, and it will not do for the Nobel Prize Committee to accept words from him where it would demand action from others. The Emperor being black should not distract us from noticing he has no clothes.