President Obama’s Peace Prize and Acceptance Speech.

December 15, 2009

President Obama's Peace Prize and Speech.

President Obama has made some strange decisions in his first year in office. He declined to attend the celebrations of the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, surely one of the most significant moments in Twentieth Century history. And he was less than passionate about showing his support for the Iranian dissidents, students, and workers. Then came the Nobel Pace Prize, which many thought was undeserved, and which many, including Christopher Hitchens, thought he should have declined. Not everyone takes the Nobel Peace Prize seriously, and the Nobel Committee has been criticized as much for its failure to award it to Gandhi and others, as well as for awarding it prematurely ("foolishly anticipating events" as Hitchens put it) to, for instance, Arafat, Rabin and Peres in 1994, or to undeserving figures, such as Mother Teresa.

Should President Obama have received it? Good intentions are not enough. What are his concrete achievements? Should he have declined it? I think there is a precedent; though there is some controversy as to whether Le Duc Tho, who received it in 1973 along with Henry Kissinger for bringing about a ceasefire in the Vietnam War, refused it or simply declined to travel to accept it.

As for the acceptance speech, there was a welcome note of realism, when President Obama said, "But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their [Gandhi and Martin Luther King] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Obama also praised Nixon and Reagan, the former for his meeting with Mao, and the latter for his "efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika [which] not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe.". He showed his solidarity for dissidents like Aung Sang Suu Kyi of Myanmar. But then, for me, Obama struck a false note, "Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war." First, it is not for Obama to decide what is "true" Islam and what is not, and he clearly only knows the politically correct version of what the Crusades were really about.