Many people heard the news with great surprise on the morning of October 9, 2009: President Barack Obama was announced as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Immediately there were cries of, "Why? What did he do to deserve it? He's too 'new' to win something like that!" as well as comments like "Peace Prize? He’s conducting two wars!"
So, why did the Nobel Committee award the prize to President Obama? Were they dazzled and rendered stupid by his "star power? No. They see star power all the time and often pass it over in favor of an anonymous worker for peace. Were they sending a message to the world at large and especially to America? Yes. They often send messages with their awards, which are always to some extent political.
As Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, explained in an October 10, 2009 New York Times article, the committee sometimes acknowledges those in the trenches doing the idealistic grunt work, but it also sometimes acknowledges those who have a political connection to the prospect of peace. "It is always a mix of idealism and realpolitik that can change the world," said Mr. Jagland.
Realpolitik refers to practical policies, and the practical policies that are needed in the 21st century must include a shift away from nationalism toward globalism. Shifting away from nationalism most certainly does not mean abandoning patriotism or devotion to one's own country. Rather, the shifting means accepting the fact that one's own country is part of an interdependent world--one that has been made more and more interdependent as a result of modern transportation, technology, and trade.
The official announcement of the award cites President Obama's "Extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Part of that effort can be found in the president's remarks to the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2009: "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."
"A global response" requires working with the rest of the world--to discuss problems and to arrive at solutions. A global response is not a shoot-from-the-hip response. (And yes, the award to President Obama is of course in part a slap to President George W. Bush, he of the "if you’re not with us, you’re against us" school of responses.)
In an interview on January 5, 2009, Henry Kissinger stated that President-elect Obama’s job would be "to develop an overall strategy for America in this period, when really a 'New World Order' can be created." He went on to call that task "a great opportunity."
The Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama is a way of making it official that he is working toward that new world order. A New York Times editorial on October 10, 2009 cited Obama’s "willingness to respect and work with other nations," or, as some detractors would call it, his willingness to make an "apology tour" of the world.
Well, apologies were definitely in order. The political instabilities, nuclear threats, and climate crises that face America face the rest of the world, too. As the Nobel announcement states, President Obama’s diplomacy is based on an acceptance of and respect for the "values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population."
That majority did not share the values of xenophobia and hate. That majority gave us their hearts on September 11, 2001. And we shut them out. With President Obama, America is re-embracing the rest of the world. And that is why Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.