Barack Obama did not ask for the Nobel Peace Prize and he was probably the most shocked person to learn that it had been awarded to him.
He certainly made no secret of his surprise at the news. And, he was dignified and humble in publicly saying that he didn’t feel that he deserved to be “in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honoured by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace”.
In selecting Obama, the Nobel Prize Committee said: “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”. Few, except Obama’s bitterest antagonists in the US Republican Party and right wing groups would deny that statement.
The Committee also justified awarding the Prize to Obama by saying it “attached special importance to Obama's vision of, and work for, a world without nuclear weapons”. That, too, is true. Obama could not be any clearer on this issue.
I part company with the Committee in its prospective explanation that “as President (Obama) 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”. This latter assertion is left to be seen.
From a Caribbean standpoint, his desire for multilateral diplomacy – rather than the enforcement of a US position – is yet to be tested and will be judged on the readiness of his administration to include Caribbean governments directly in: addressing the economic development needs of the area through bilateral assistance and the mobilization of resources from the international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank; reviewing US policy on the deportation of criminals; reassessing and re-modeling the anti-drug trafficking programme in the area; and fashioning machinery that will allow Caribbean financial services to continue to compete in the global market place, particularly in relation to US businesses. On this, judgment of Obama’s willingness to engage even the smallest of nations in multilateral decision-making has to be withheld.
But, whatever reservations may be harboured by non-Americans about the early award of the Peace Prize to Obama, two things cannot be denied. First, the Nobel Prize Committee is right in its assessment that Obama has captured the world’s attention and given people of many nations cause to hope for a better future. And, second, he has been awarded the prize without seeking it.
In this regard, Barack Obama is far above reproach. His declaration that he did not feel he deserved to be in the company of the notable persons who preceded him also marked him as a special human being.
Every citizen of the United States of America should have rejoiced in the selection of one of their own for the Prize, especially coming after a period in which its government’s policies and practices estranged the US from most of the rest of the world and created deep resentment of Americans as a nation. Americans of every stripe should have been delighted that their country had returned to a place of global honour.
And, it is worth saying that while the period before Obama was particularly awful under the administration of George W Bush, the previous Bill Clinton government was not without its flaws.
Any who would question my observation of the Clinton government should look at the number of routine air strikes in Afghanistan that killed many innocent people and spurred deep resentment.
For the Caribbean, the dislocation of banana farmers from their preferential market in the European Union was a direct result of the Clinton administration’s decision to act in the World Trade Organization for US multinational companies that were banana plantation owners in Latin America as well as financial contributors to the Clinton presidential campaign. It was also under the Clinton administration that the US took a hawkish position in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that blacklisted several Caribbean jurisdictions over financial services. Many never recovered.
There is no doubt that no one person in US history has done more to improve global attitudes to the US than Barack Obama. The American people purged themselves when the majority of them elected him President for the content of his character above the colour of his skin, and for recognizing that he had a quality in his reasoning and his aspirations that was inspiring and believable.
But, instead of applauding Obama’s appreciation by a prestigious body that has honoured human achievement and ambition for over a century, Republicans and right-wing groups in the United States denigrated it.
Fox News called the Nobel Prize “tainted” and one commentator wallowed in the gutter to ask if the Prize Committee was pursuing “a policy of affirmative action” – in other words Obama got the Prize because he is black. The ridiculousness of the last comment is evidenced by the people who have won the Peace Prize in modern times. For the most part, they are not white and at least four of them are black – Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist woman,:Nelson Mandela: Desmond Tutu: and Martin Luther King.
Nelson Mandela receiving Nobel Peace Prize
These same groups cheered, celebrated, and rejoiced when their own country lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympics simply because Obama joined the effort to convince the Olympic Committee to choose Chicago. How sick is that?
As a non-American, wary of the tendency for big powers to overlook the human value of small countries and their tendency to marginalise weak nations in pursuit of their own interests, I have to hope that, in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama so early in his Presidency, the objective of the Committee was to hold him to the values that he has espoused and encourage him to live up to them.
But, those Americans who maligned this unsought honour to one of their own should be ashamed of their deplorable behaviour. The awful spectacle to the world of their bigotry on this particular issue lost them respect and was nothing short of stupid.