x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mixed reactions to Obama's peace prize

The Nobel committee's decision to award this year's Peace Prize to the US president Barack Obama has provoked surprise, criticism, and celebration. Yet whatever thinking lay behind the choice, one thing is clear: Mr Obama's status as a global celebrity could not have been ignored by the Norwegians. Iran's foreign minister thought the decision was made in haste while Israel's president said his American counterpart had provided all humanity with "a feeling that there is a Lord in heaven and believers on earth".

The Nobel committee's decision to award this year's Peace Prize to the US president Barack Obama has provoked surprise, criticism, and celebration. Yet whatever thinking lay behind the choice, one thing is clear: Mr Obama's status as a global celebrity could not have been ignored by the Norwegians. As Stephen Robinson noted in The National before the announcement was made, the awards ceremony organisers had already selected American stars to host the entertainment. "This year's concert will be co-hosted by the Hollywood actor Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith who, the Nobel committee says, together have 'had a global impact on the arts and philanthropy and will be excellent ambassadors for peace'. "For their part, the Smiths say they are 'both humbled and honoured' to have been invited to host 'the historic evening with artists and humanitarians from across the globe'. "It is precisely this marrying of the celebrity to the political which has been at the heart of the Nobel Peace prize experience in recent years as it seeks to maintain its global profile and expand its reach." Bewilderment at the selection was nowhere greater than in the United States itself where an editorial in the Los Angeles Times noted: "no amount of self-effacing spin can obscure the oddity of this award. "For the president's critics on the right, the Nobel feeds a narrative in which Obama is more interested in flattering foreigners than in defending US interests. To those in his restive progressive base, it appears that the peacemaker's mantle has been draped on the shoulders of a president who is presiding over two distant wars and who may soon send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan." The same newspaper also noted that in the Middle East, the announcement comes at a moment when the president's peacemaking efforts are viewed with heightened scepticism. "Obama inspired the region in his Cairo address to Muslims in June, regarded as a wise and conciliatory gesture to erase the combative years of the Bush administration and mend relations with the Arab world. "But as months passed, passionate words and good intentions were seldom enough. Success here is traditionally measured by the progress the White House makes toward the creation of a Palestinian state. And, for many Arabs, Obama has been stymied and outflanked by a stubborn Israeli government that shows little inclination for peace. " 'From the Arab perspective, Obama seems to have caved in to Israeli pressure rather than the reverse - he couldn't even get Israel to agree to a temporary settlement freeze,' said Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. 'That's the moment we're at right now. People feel let down. They like Obama, they want him to succeed, but in their view he caved at the very first step.'" Iran's Press TV reported: "Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says the designation was 'overly premature'. " 'This decision was clearly made in haste,' said Mottaki on Saturday. 'However, we will support and welcome the move if it helps promote peace and harmony in war-wary countries,' he said. "Mottaki said the appropriate time for giving this award is when Palestinian rights are respected and occupation forces are fully withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan." Closer to home, Mr Obama received praise from one of America's arch enemies, Cuba's former president, Fidel Castro. "Many believe that he still has not earned the right to receive such a distinction," Mr Castro wrote in one of his regular columns. "But we would like to see, more than a prize for the US president, a criticism of the genocidal policies that have been followed by more than a few presidents of that country." The father of the Cuban revolution said he often disagreed with the choices of the Nobel committee, "but I must admit that in this case, in my opinion, it was a positive step." Vamsee Juluri, writing at The Huffington Post said: "It may be true that President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for promise rather than achievement, but let us not forget that there is at least one point on which he has already proven himself - and this is a point that Mahatma Gandhi, that greatest of peace advocates, would have approved of. It is civility. "Civility may seem as frivolous a criterion for such an honour as 'potential'. But it is indeed a quality that we have started to notice frequently in its growing absence in political and even public culture. In the past few months, we have seen examples of the loss of civility in so many contexts that it may just seem like rancour, ugliness, and bad behavior are all simply here to stay. A president was called a liar by a member of an august institution, to his face. The same president has been called a thousand nasty - and here's what's equally important - immensely false names, not just by ordinary people, but by people in positions of accountable privilege, power, and visibility. "Yet, in spite of it all, Obama has remained the same person so many of us celebrated last November. He has stood with dignity and remained true to whatever ideals of civil conduct he believes in. He may not have delivered on many of his electoral promises, yet, but despite the disappointments the fact is that Obama has stayed true, in at least one Gandhian sense. He has not lowered himself one bit. He has remained peaceful, intelligent, inspiring, and inclusive (annoyingly, even on occasions when he really shouldn't have). He is still the Obama of 'Hope'. When millions of American voters bought that message last November, why should we even be surprised that the peace prize committee did so too?" Robert Fuller suggested: "Obama got the prize not for doing, but for being. Not for making peace, but for exemplifying something new on the world stage - the politics of dignity. "The Nobel committee has simply made explicit what many have sensed. President Obama is the herald of dignitarian politics. Not libertarian, not egalitarian, but dignitarian. "Dignitarian politics represents a modern synthesis of libertarian and egalitarian politics. War between these two battle-scarred, exhausted ideologies shaped both national and international politics throughout the twentieth century. Obama is the first politician of world stature to identify and model an alternative that can meet the challenges of the twenty-first. Awarding him the Nobel prize is an expression of the hope that our best chance for world peace lies in the dignitarian politics of which Obama is an exemplar. "What is dignitarian politics? It is the recognition that people the world over actually want dignity more than either liberty or equality. In policy terms, it means ensuring dignity for all - within and among nations."

pwoodward@thenational.ae