If you woke up on the morning of Friday, October 9, 2009, and found yourself in the body of your thirteen-year-old child, or that you’d grown fangs and a unicorn horn, or that your car had suddenly been possessed by the spirit of your deceased mother-in-law, I hope you didn’t fret too much. It was just Freaky Friday.
I knew this for sure when I arose to find that President Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. What? Excuse me? This prize is typically awarded for a wide, long-ranging history of efforts to promote world peace. The Nobel powers that be cited Obama’s record of giving the world “hope for a better future” and striving for nuclear disarmament.
Who doesn’t want to reduce, modernize, and streamline the nuclear stockpile? And … “hope”? Are you serious? This is the same guy who couldn’t even take time out of his busy day to have waffles with the Dalai Lama. (A person who arguably could have been given the award, but I suppose it was too soon since the prize went that way in 1989.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been openly supportive of most of Obama’s foreign policy stance, but what has he really done which is worthy of this fete? He’s essentially pulling out of Iraq under the same plan G.W. Bush had in place, and he may or may not be preparing to scale up the war in Afghanistan, depending upon which day you ask. And while his predecessor may have been a bit of a war monger, at least he kept his attacks contained to the Middle East and Europe. Obama has started a bombing run on the moon! Interplanetary war!
A brief look at the list of past winners is informative at this point. There was a time when the people and organizations tapped for this prestigious honor were no-brainers to most rational observers. Leon Jouhaux, Martin Luther King, Cordell Hull, Frank B. Kellogg, and the Red Cross have all gotten the nod and a fair case can be made for each.
I should also note that American presidents have taken this prize before with varying degrees of approbation. Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were each recipients, though their dedication to peace often included a proclivity toward armed combat. Even the generally hapless Jimmy Carter was a winner, and no matter what you may think of his policies, he was definitely an agent of peace. True, his hesitancy to pull the trigger left this reporter floating on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean for a full year, awaiting an order to attack Iran which never came. But he made sincere, if bungled, efforts to calm the waters surrounding Israel and always chose the path of peace.
But what is it in Barack Obama’s rather thin resume which prompted the committee to select his name this year? His work as a community organizer? All of those “present” votes as a legislator? (I suppose refusing to take a side in most debates could be considered “peaceful” in a way.) As president he has been in office for less than a year. He hasn’t engaged the Middle East peace process in any meaningful way, aside from telling Israel he wouldn’t help them if they decide to bomb the Iranians. Was that the big move which put him over the top?
Or is it that the Nobel Prize has devolved into a political football, lacking any of the substance and gravitas which it once carried? When Al Gore took home the honors in 2007, that should have been the final nail in the coffin of credibility. Gore’s somewhat questionable focus was on science in the realm of climate change, not world peace. But much like a bad PR agency striving to attach big names to their client roster, the committee seems to be more enamored of the ebb and flow of public sentiment than any meaningful contribution to the fields of endeavor they seek to honor.
There is likely no name on lips around the globe right now with more sacred chatter than the current president’s, and clearly the Nobel committee is seeking to attach itself to Mr. Obama’s fame train. But his freshman year in the West Wing hasn’t exactly been synonymous with achievement or success. And world peace is arguably one field where his accomplishments add up to virtually nothing.
Did the president inspire “hope” in a world looking for peace? Perhaps. There is still a fair amount of magic attached to that talisman. But the inspiration of hope through the mere act of breathing seems rather thin gruel for a Nobel stew. Then again, I still have hope that I’ll wake up tomorrow as an eighteen-year-old youth with a killer curveball. And who can say what the future holds? Apparently anything is possible on Freaky Friday.