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Prizing Peace

October 9, 2009

The news this morning that President Barack Obama will receive the Nobel Peace Prize caught almost everyone by surprise.  Many were left wondering whether he deserved such recognition so early in his presidency.  Others considered it a down-payment intended to sustain his commitment to the hard work ahead and to encourage future efforts.  And still others considered it a mistake given the nation’s impending decision to become more deeply entrenched in armed conflict in Afghanistan.

No matter where you find yourself personally on the question of the Mr. Obama’s merit, it’s worth keeping this news in perspective.  As the president himself noted, his daughters are certainly helping him do so by noting this development alongside the family dog’s birthday and the approaching three-day Columbus Day weekend.

Understandably, most Americans have difficulty appreciating the depth and breadth of the change in the international climate since Mr. Obama’s election that the Nobel Committee cited when announcing its unanimous decision.  Having lived abroad during nearly all of the last administration’s term of office, I can see why people elsewhere find the change in rhetoric since his election so welcome, compelling, and encouraging.

The decision to recognize this change in climate, especially as it relates to nuclear non-proliferation, multilateralism, and engagement with the Muslim world, reflects an endorsement of the change in American attitudes that paved the way to the election of the country’s first black president.  It also recognizes the work we’re doing right now to catch up with the rest of the developed world in our efforts to reduce anthropogenic climate impacts and improve access to health care for our citizens.

Resolving these domestic issues not only advances social justice on the homefront, but also increases the chances for world peace and international prosperity.  The less worrying we do about our own welfare, the more apt we are to engage others on terms that acknowledge and embrace our shared humanity.

In no small way, I think the Nobel Committee is recognizing not just our president but all Americans.  Europeans still hold a special place in the hearts for Americans, and genuinely want to see us succeed.  Any doubts we may harbor as to whether the president really deserves this award probably reflect our own dis-ease at the degree of support we have provided for his efforts to advance an agenda motivated by a commitment to advancing peace through economic and social justice.

We would do well to follow the president’s lead and accept this recognition with grace and humility.  With great accomplishments come great expectations.  We have much work to do, and will only succeed by working together.

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