W hen I was five, my friend got a holographic Pog in his loot bag at a birthday party. Bitter and resentful, I glared at him for a week, refusing to share my snacks with him at recess or look for him during our daily games of hide-and-seek. He didn’t deserve that Pog, and I was convinced that if he had an ounce of integrity in his four-foot-tall body, he would have given it back. But I’m not five anymore, and I realize now how absurd it was to blame him for his unsolicited good fortune. So now that Barack Obama has found the Nobel Peace Prize in his loot bag, it’s time for us to stop blaming the man and get over it.
Does bestowing the award upon Obama somehow delegitimize the Nobel Peace Prize? In short: no. I’m inclined to believe the title already lacks a whole lot of legitimacy. After being awarded to the likes of Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat, I tend not to take it too seriously. If we were to believe that despite being awarded to Al Gore for his care of trees, the prize is still important, we would also have to believe that no single recipient could delegitimize it, Obama included.
Has Obama achieved world peace? No. But neither have most winners, and we need to reassess whether we actually want to treat the Peace Prize as a piece of post facto self-congratulatory pomp. A prize awarded to someone who has already finished their work vis-à-vis international solidarity does little good to foster actual prospects of peace. The prize is far more valuable as an expressive statement of the hopes and desires of the world, intended to guide those in power as they face tough decisions.
Fact: Obama is president while Iraq and Afghanistan are in a state of total disarray. But we can hardly expect him to undo eight years of damage overnight or resolve bitter and bloody battles that reach far beyond his short term in office. If we look instead to the closing of Guantánamo Bay, his speech in Cairo, his dialogue with Iran, and Netanyahu saying the words “Palestinian state,” we can see that Obama has not just promised peace but is taking meaningful steps toward achieving it. It may be only nine months into his presidency, but he’s endured a lot of labour pains to birth a new era of diplomacy, and this award may be the breast milk it needs to develop.
And if you still think the Nobel committee was wrong, don’t criticize the recipient; blame the committee. Sure, Obama could have declined the prize, citing his own unworthiness in some touching and well-delivered speech. But imagine the international PR disaster that would be. Who would want to go down in history as the president who’s against peace? It’s not reasonable to expect anyone to decline this award. What we can expect is for them to take its mandate seriously, and continue to work toward peaceful humanitarian ends. I have every reason to expect Obama to do this, and I’m not going to criticize his character in my Facebook status.
Riva Gold is one of The Daily’s weekly columnists. Send her an aggregate of your Facebook statuses at firstname.lastname@example.org.