Early Laurels In Oslo

Our View: Obama's Peace Prize Isn't Your Father's Nobel, But Maybe One For Our Time

December 11, 2009

When President Barack Obama was named winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize in October, the country was in the midst of two foreign wars, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, threats of nuclear proliferation from North Korea and Iran and the specter of catastrophic global climate change. Nothing that has happened in the two months since has fundamentally altered that picture.

Thus, the sight of President Obama accepting his award in Norway on Thursday was, on one level, fraught with irony. The challenges that loomed so large when the prize was announced are still with us, and no one expected them not to be. Instead, Mr. Obama has, in effect, been pre-recognized for accomplishments the Nobel committee hopes he will yet achieve at some future date, and he has had the world's most famous prize for peace conferred on him only days after choosing to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

Still, the president deserves credit for his address at Oslo, in which he laid out the unique position the leader of the world's sole superpower is in to pursue a just peace, even when that pursuit must require the use of arms.

As president of a nation at war, Mr. Obama's duties don't allow him the option of following the path of complete nonviolence charted by earlier peace prize winners such as Albert Schweitzer and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet within his role as commander-in-chief, he made a strong case for a more thoughtful approach to the use of military power, which in itself could exert a powerful influence toward creating a more peaceful world.

We disagree with Mr. Obama's conclusions about how best to pursue that goal in Afghanistan; sending more troops to that country without stronger assurances that the government of President Hamid Karzai will clean up the corruption in its ranks is a mistake, in our view. However, we cannot argue with Mr. Obama's belief that the threat posed by global terrorism is one that must be confronted and defeated. His use of the full range of international diplomacy and economic sanctions to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea - at the same time working to reduce the United States' own nuclear stockpile - certainly advances the cause of peace, as does his determination to set the world on the path toward addressing climate change which, if unchecked, will surely lead to unprecedented global suffering, dislocation and war.

To have witnessed a gray-haired and wizened ex-President Obama accept the Nobel Prize after a lifetime's achievements in the pursuit of peace would certainly have been more in line with everyone's idea of that ceremony's hoary traditions. But if ever there was a need for new beginnings and the audacity of hope, surely it is now.

Instead of lamenting all things that remain undone, we should look at this award in the terms suggested by Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland: as a validation of the principles of cooperation, dialogue and negotiation that Mr. Obama champions, and as a spur to action from him and the world's other leaders. "It is now, today, we have the opportunity to support President Obama's ideas," Mr. Jagland said. "This year's prize is a call to action for all of us."

Readers respond

Give me a break. The fact that you have written a long-winded, rather self-conscious justification of this Nobel shows a smidgen of embarrassment even in Obama admirers about the Nobel Committee's vacuous decision to call him a peacemaker when history has thrust him into the position of a warmonger.

War on Peace

I, and I am sure many others, are justifiably proud of our president. To call him a warmonger is shallow and stupid, as it was an inherited war. Kudos to him for taking steps to end it once and for all.

Ray Barcia

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