Nobel Peace Prize is a Hasty Congratulation

Whether or Not Obama Deserved it, His Nobel Victory May Have Far-Reaching Consequences for the U.S.


Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9, referring to the award not as a recognition of his accomplishments, but as a “call to action.” (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

Published: October 22, 2009

I recently procured a job walking a dog—Schubert, a terrier—on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Central Park. I am to make sure that he gets his daily exercise, offer some relief from the four walls of his owner’s apartment and make sure he does not pick up stray papers in his mouth as we walk the streets. On Sunday, at the end of a meeting I had with his owner, he paid me preemptively for my first week of services—$45. Though I understood his reason in opening his wallet to me before I had completed the job, I still felt a slight discomfort in accepting the crumpled bills from this man before I aided Schubert in releasing endorphins up and down Central Park West.

In contemplating why I felt such unease with a simple, upfront payment, I realized that my squeamishness was not dissimilar to the feeling I felt in hearing that President Barack Obama had been announced as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9. Though I have faith both in my abilities to walk a dog and our president’s abilities to lead our global society closer to a place of peace, I find both acts of generosity—one on behalf of a New York City dog-owner, the other on behalf of a small committee of Swedish men—to be rash, unwise and a tad worrying.

I do not want to criticize Obama for what he has or has not done up to this point. Just as the Nobel was awarded him, in the words of the committee, for his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons,” so do I want to create a vision of what this may mean for a country that currently has as its leader a man deemed to be the premier advocate for peace in the world. The Nobel Prize committee may have inadvertently made the United States the object of intense scrutiny that we neither warrant nor wish to invite. At the time, Obama’s hands are tied by a foreign war for which he has repeatedly absolved himself of responsibility. If he is unable to untangle America from the overseas bramble created by his predecessor, it may spell trouble for the image of America overseas. His professional problem could become America’s personality defect.

I worry for the repercussions of the president’s potential overshadowing of other important voices on the global stage, as well. The Nobel Peace Prize is often viewed as a cheerleader’s bullhorn, through which the often-marginalized voices of global leaders are awarded amplification. No man on earth needs amplification less than Barack Obama. Few people, if any, know Shirin Ebadi of Iran who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for “her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children,” or Wangari Muta Maathai, winner in 2004 “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” Put quite simply, when Obama speaks, the world listens, regardless of the golden pendant on his mantle or the million-dollar cash prize in his pocket. What a vision for a scenario in which the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize would have been able to meet with President Barack Obama and further an agenda of which many Americans would have been ignorant.

I worry also that this prize may become a referent against which all of the president’s future actions will be measured. Media will ask if he is living up to the prize he was awarded and he may become subject to continual attacks as to whether the Swedish were high on slogans of “Change” when they made their decision. I hope that this will not be the case. I hope and believe that this prize may act as a contract by which we, as citizens of the planet and not only the United States, may keep our president accountable for his actions. If a man can take his last few crinkled dollars from his wallet and trust a boy to make sure there are no accidents on the fabric of his carpet, so can we hope that the man a majority of our electorate voted to the office of the president of the United States will not wear the badge as a bragging point, but rather a promise not to leave a blemish in the fabric of America’s rich historical and cultural tapestry.