By virtue of the audacity of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s choice of Barak Obama as its 2009 recipient, the world is changed. This is not a radical impulsive group. If anything I would say its actions are by and large conservative and measured. So what did this esteemed body recognize in Obama that impelled them to select him? What, in their view, did he bring to this very fraught, messy and endangered planet at a time of economic, political and military crisis? I would say it was his intelligence, courage and integrity, yes, but also his astounding balance of pragmatism and idealism. His leadership is grounded in the belief that he, in what is arguably the world’s most important and toughest job, is capable of inspiring citizens of this nation and beyond to join him in the business of making the world a better place for all its people. How extraordinary and how wise was the Nobel Peace Prize committee to discern that and act upon it sooner rather than later!
Their decision is bold- risky for reasons that I feel certain they understood. In the short term, it could conceivably hinder Obama’s progress both domestically and internationally. And it will undoubtedly produce an outburst of savage attacks on Obama from his well-identified and fairly numerous and vocal enemies. But the fact that the committee called it as they saw it despite the risks acknowledges that they recognize that Obama has ushered in a new age: not nirvana, not utopia, not a resurrection, but rather an informed—not naïve– belief that we can and must create a culture of interdependence and live more peacefully in this very complex, increasingly interconnected world. This is not a wide-eyed dream. I see it as consummately practical—especially with the threats of nuclear proliferation sure to be more likely in the future. These threats call for a new energy and a new vision, both of which Obama possesses in full measure.
I don’t see this as a premature canonization or a sentimental idolization—I see it as a decisive move forward—recognizing that the honoree has the capacity to nudge the world into a period in which people feel that they have the power and the obligation to improve relationships on this planet. The committee’s decision reflects a strong feeling around the world that the United States has selected the right person for our time, because he insists that we carry that most energizing and capacity building of emotions—hope—into our interactions at home and abroad. The early rather than late selection of Obama for the Prize only indicates that time is not what it used to be. Now is when his greatness must be recognized so that we can follow his lead and create a more sane and humane world.