Obama’s Nobel Speech

This year when the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to confer its much cherished Peace Prize on President Barack Husain Obama, many people were caught by surprise, including the president himself. After all, Obama has just become the president of the USA — a country that has been at war since the Bush days of 2001. Those wars are still raging on. The much promised shut down of the Guantanamo Bay prison site, an election campaign promise, has not happened; it is still operating. To most folks, peace seems an illusion today. There’s hardly anything substantial achieved that could have justified bestowing such an honor to a sitting president, and surely not of the USA, except probably one –” selling an idea – hope to the entire world. And this he sold rather brilliantly not only during his hard-won election campaign against Hillary Clinton and John McCain – the sure choices for the war party, but also during his first few days in the oval office.

And who could forget Obama’s speech last year in Berlin when he introduced himself “not as a candidate for President” of the USA but as “a fellow citizen of the world?” With those words, he electrified his audience and millions of TV viewers. He said, “I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city. The journey that led me here is improbable. My mother was born in the heartland of America, but my father grew up herding goats in Kenya. His father –” my grandfather –” was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.” To break the barriers between people of all races, colors and religions, he said, "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand … The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand.” He solidified the bonding by continuing, “This is the moment when we must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons… This is the moment when every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday… This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably… This is the moment we must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East… This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet… And this is the moment when we must give hope to those left behind in a globalized world.” He ended his speech by saying, “People of Berlin – and people of the world – the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.” Simply brilliant! There was nothing else to say. It was a complete speech. With that speech in Berlin, Obama had virtually transformed himself to becoming their candidate –” a world candidate.

So, when the Nobel Committee bestowed the award last week for “efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” it was the world citizenry that celebrated most. After all, Obama is their man. The Prize was theirs. The celebrities came from all over the world to Oslo to celebrate the event in a concert hall (although the President could not attend it because of his busy schedule back home). There were the blues and jazz duo sensations – Amadou and Maryam from Mali, Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean, Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang, American singers Toby Keith and Donna Summer, and others including American actor Will Smith who hosted the event with his wife Jada. Who cares that Obama has not delivered much of that dream –” hope – to deserve the Peace Prize! The Nobel Peace Prize has always been controversial anyway! Even the terrorist Menachem Begin had won it before, and so did Henry Kissinger! Obama surely is better than either of them; at least, up till now!

Still, doubts lingered on his selection and Obama knew that he had to explain why he was chosen for the coveted prize. And this he did rather impressively last Thursday in his 36-minute address. He defended the idea that some wars were necessary and just, and appealed for greater international efforts for peace. It was a mix of idealism and realism, implicitly criticizing both the ideals of non-violence of M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as being deficient to deal with the dangers of the world, and the cowboy, trigger-happy instinct of President George W. Bush as too quick to set aside fundamental American values in pursuit of national security. So, he sounded to favor pragmatism over absolutes. He was applauded when he renewed his pledge to ban torture and close the prison at the American base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend,” President Obama said. “And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it is easy, but when it is hard.”

As we all can appreciate it has not been an easy ride for the President. He finds himself bumping up against the harsh realities of international conflict and diplomacy, with an inherited devastated economy that is yet to show real positive signs of recovery, even after so much of government infusion. He is a president waging two wars abroad, albeit, both inherited from his hawkish predecessor. He’s sending some 30,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan, which can even transform into America’s Vietnam, prolonging troops-pullout from there. Iraq is still bleeding. The drone attacks inside Pakistan are continuing. The war zone has simply broadened. The Zionist settler regime in Israel, with support from the U.S. Congress, is not showing any sign towards a peaceful resolution of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many within his own administration, including the hawkish Secretary of State, want nothing short of opening yet another warfront with Iran. Many neo-conservatives, dormant but not dead, still preach the wisdom of war to solve America’s economic conundrum.

There is little doubt that the Nobel Peace prize was bestowed as a down payment for what the Europeans wanted from America’s foreign policy. They want President Obama to deliver peace –” the hope that he gave to the world in his maiden speech some 17 months ago in Berlin –” now the heart of modern Europe. Can he give meaning to that expectation?