President Obama’s only real diplomatic accomplishment so far has been to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy from unilateral bullying to multilateral listening and cooperating. That’s important, to be sure, but not nearly enough. The Prize is really more of Booby Prize for Obama’s predecessor. Had the world not suffered eight years of George W. Bush, Obama would not be receiving the Prize. He’s prizeworthy and praiseworthy only by comparison.
I’d rather Obama had won it after Congress agreed to substantial cuts in greenhouse gases comparable to what Europe is proposing, after he brought Palestinians and Israelis together to accept a two-state solution, after he got the United States out of Afghanistan and reduced the nuclear arm’s threat between Pakistan and India, or after he was well on the way to eliminating the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. Any one of these would have been worthy of global praise. Perhaps the Nobel committee can give him half the prize now and withhold the other half until he accomplishes one or more of these crucial missions.
Giving the Peace Prize to the President before any of these goals has been attained only underscores the paradox of Obama at this early stage of his presidency. He has demonstrated mastery in both delivering powerful rhetoric and providing the nation and the world with fresh and important ways of understanding current challenges. But he has not yet delivered. To the contrary, he often seems to hold back from the fight — temporizing, delaying, or compromising so much that the rhetoric and insight he offers seem strangely disconnected from what he actually does. Yet there’s time. He may yet prove to be one of the best presidents this nation has ever had — worthy not only of the Peace Prize but of every global accolate he could possibly summon. Just not yet.
Robert B. Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written eleven books (including his most recent, Supercapitalism, which is now out in paperback). Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s “Marketplace” are heard by nearly five million people. This entry appeared on his blog.
Copyright 2009 Robert B. Reich