I am a patriot. This word means different things to different people, but to me it means pride in my nation, one founded by brilliant thinkers and built on the acknowledgment of basic human rights. It does not mean that I agree with everything my country does or with all of my fellow citizens. It means that I believe in our basic values enough to love this country. Patriotism also recognizes a shared fate. There can be no patriotism unless there is a shared identity and a shared fate. Because we share this space, these values, what happens to you very much matters to me. To maintain our identity as a nation, we have public education and other public services which ensure our health and welfare. Since I am a patriot, I believe in caring for my fellow citizens, for sacrificing through taxes or through service in order to maintain the health and well-being of us all. In return, I benefit from these same services, and from knowing that I am helping to build and maintain my country. Today, I am a very proud American.
President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace today. It would seem this news has united many from the left and the right in incredulity. After all, Obama hasn’t been president very long; what could he have done to warrant such an honor?
A look back at previous laureates shows an assortment of organizations and individuals of varying levels of accomplishment. Some were successful in explicit battles for peace or against injustice. Others not so much. The committee’s mandate for the prize is rather broad:
According to Nobel’s will, the Peace Prize is to go to whoever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
Their statement explains their choice:
Obama has as President 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. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA 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.
Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.
This statement contains a not-so-subtle snipe at unpopular American policies, but also implicitly acknowledges American exeptionalism. There has always been politics in the award, and clearly the committee is giving Americans a nice carrot. It would seem that some of Obama’s foreign policy decisions hold with what the committee has observed. For example, pulling missiles out of eastern Europe may have given him the ability to help contain the Iranian nuclear threat. Whether Obama or any other American president would agree that our policies should be based on “values and attitudes…shared by the majority of the world’s population” is pretty shakey. Foreign policy is ultimately based on what is best for the nation, and if that is best for other nations, great. What if the majority of the world thinks Iran “deserves” nukes? Should American foreign policy reflect this?
What the committee may or may not have meant is that Obama seems to be more interested in at least understanding the beliefs and desires of our friends and enemies, and using this understanding as a basis for diplomacy.
So while the award may seem quixotic, it’s not unprecedented. The Nobel committee is in essence saying, “we know the US is enormously powerful and influential, and we’re happy to see that you may be using your powers responsibly.” To paraphrase Sally Field, they really like us!
How should we, as Americans, respond to this honor? It is and honor. We are a true representative democracy, and our elected head of state was just given the world’s most prestigious award. It is an endorsement by others of many of our basic values. This is an opportunity for us to say to the world, “yes, we are uniquely important” Many of our values are universal. The world still looks to us as a model democracy. After years in the wilderness of world opinion, we are being recognized for our accomplishments and ideals. I like that.