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Of Nobel Prizes, Past and Present

That was then.

Four years ago, on October 9, 2009, an announcement was made in Oslo, Norway:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

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.

Of course, that was then.

Today, the US’s preferred instrument for resolving “difficult international conflicts” is depressingly familiar — drones, airstrikes, and other military solutions.

In Obama’s lecture accepting the Nobel prize, he spoke of dealing with rogue nations:

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior – for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure – and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

He went on to discuss efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and then proceeded to broaden the discussion once more:

The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma – there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy – but there must be consequences when those things fail. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

Of course, that was then.

Today, standing “together as one” with the rest of the world seems to have been, if not forgotten, at least placed on the back burner. Today, alternatives to violence appear to have been jettisoned. Today, Obama seems willing to go it alone with military action — without the UN Security Council, without the UN General Assembly, without the British, without the Congress.

2009 was then, but today is now.

If the international consensus on action against Syria were as strong as Obama wants to claim, then the chorus of international leaders would be deafening. Instead, we hear Obama speak of quiet assurances from other leaders made in private conversations behind closed doors. In public, we hear the British Parliament say “no” to Prime Minister Cameron.

Just yesterday, the Nobel website posted “14 Questions and Answers About the Nobel Peace Prize,” with the answers provided by Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Among the questions:

Can a Nobel Peace Prize be revoked?
According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, §10, a Nobel Prize cannot be revoked.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that people are asking this question right now.

Announcing his intention to bomb Syria under the present circumstances makes it clear that not only did the Nobel committee misjudge Obama, but Obama himself has decided that what he said in accepting the award in 2009 is no longer what he believes today.

If Obama intends to launch a mostly unilateral military strike against Syria, he might at least want to return his Nobel medal to Oslo before he does so. It’s not like it means a lot to him anymore.

Photo by Kirill Levin under Creative Commons license

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.