President Obama and the Peace Prize

This is just a quick early reaction, and my reaction is that it is too early to judge President Obama’s impact on world peace. Yet he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for which nominations were closed two weeks after he took office.

I want to be clear that what I like most about President Obama is his approach to foreign policy. I think it is much needed. This includes the fact that he has a bipartisan team. One of the key elements of any foreign policy is sustainability and a purely one-party approach isn’t sustainable.

But I think the single most important element of any policy, provided it is morally and ethically justifiable, is its long term effectiveness. In public policy we seem to want to proclaim a plan for accomplishing something, or sometimes even just the intent to accomplish it, and then act as though we have succeeded.

It is as though I wrote a new family budget, itemizing savings in various categories, and then started spending the money before I had actually lived on the new budget, and successfully saved the claimed amounts. (Watch as this happens in the health care debate–we’re spending money we imagine we’ll save.)

In foreign policy, President Obama has declared a new era of engagement with the world, but he has done, as yet, very little actual engaging, and what he has done, has yet to be evaluated. I’m optimistic about many of these things, but optimism isn’t success.

I think this is very much premature, and is much more of a political message than an award for actual accomplishment. I would hope the president can fill the shoes for which supporters, well-wishers, and starry-eyed dreamers have fitted him, but that would be impossible. Unrealistic expectations beget disappointment. Every stumble–and there will doubtless be some–will now look larger than life. He can now do exceptionally well, and yet be regarded as a failure.

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  1. When he was nominated tells us only about the nominator. The question of interest is when the award decision was made. Clearly (in my view, anyway) it was premature, but not as premature as the nomination date would suggest.

    1. You’re right about that. I think that President Obama is handling this reasonably well. I just hope it isn’t a millstone around his neck. High expectations can be problematic, and he has a lot to do in foreign policy.

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