US President Barack Obama has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. prepare for a Level Five Spatula Alert
The Nobel Committee said he won it for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”.
The committee highlighted Mr Obama’s efforts to support international bodies and promote nuclear disarmament.
Mr Obama’s spokesman said the president was “humbled” to have won the prize. He said he woke Mr Obama up when he called with the news early on Friday.
There were a record 205 nominations for this year’s peace prize. Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Chinese dissident Hu Jia had been among the favourites.
The laureate – chosen by a five-member committee – wins a gold medal, a diploma and 10m Swedish kronor ($1.4m).
It’s a surprise, but I think I understand why the committee made this choice: You generate a lot of good will among people when your foreign policy message is something besides “It’s our world, and the rest of you are just living in it.”
He won it for the same style of diplomacy that won him criticism from the right: he expressed respect for how other countries have experience U.S. policy over the past 8 years, and admitted that not every single thing the U.S. has done in the world has been absolutely, completely right.
In other words, he brought something to foreign policy that is apparently anathema to conservatives in foreign and domestic policy: empathy.
In world history, the best generals are experts in empathy. They know that to get the advantage, you have to put yourself in your adversary’s shoes, look at things from that perceived perspective, and try to predict what he or she would do under specific circumstances.
So why does the United States have trouble exhibiting empathy?
It’s probably because the United States has been the globe’s most powerful nation since 1945 and is the most dominant military power in world history, both absolutely and relative to its contemporaries. In other words, empires don’t need empathy. Empathy is for sissies or, at least, lesser nations.
In reality, a lack of empathy toward potential adversaries is as dangerous for a superpower as it is for any other country. The United States found that out during Vietnam, but hasn’t seemed to retain the lesson very well.
Perhaps he was nominated and won because his approach to foreign policy has been one that emphasized “power with” instead of power over.
I don’t know if words can transform the world — I know they can’t bring back a murdered child — but I have a few of them to scatter on the grave of Derrion Albert, the Chicago boy whose brutal slaying two weeks ago stunned the city and the nation:
Power with, not power over.
I would ask that we sit with these words for a moment — in his name, in the name of uncountable others — until we feel a click of understanding, until profound possibility slides into place. We can make this a different sort of world, and the simplest, perhaps the only, way to begin is by altering our relationship with power, and with each other.
…Here’s the thing, though. This horrifying incident is just another symptom of a city, a nation and a world at perpetual war with itself. It’s merely one in a series of tragedies that we are numb to or never hear about or, because it happens overseas and at our hands (and we call it war), we wholeheartedly support. Even worse, it’s part of pop culture. Violence is our national distraction; we consume it as entertainment, whether in the movies or in the news.
And when it gets out of hand, we try to counter it with more of the same. We call it revenge, we call it punishment or we just call it victory. We support it with trillions of dollars annually, in our military, small-arms, prison and entertainment budgets. We are ever so careful not to see the larger context in which acts of terrorism or school shootings (290 in Chicago last year, 34 of them fatal) or any other act of violence occurs; we think we can distinguish between good violence and bad; and we condemn only the violence that isn’t institutionally sanctioned.
So in the name of one more precious child whose life was senselessly cut short, let us sit with the distinction between “power with” and “power over” and quietly imagine what life would be like if the latter were not our default setting. Let us imagine valuing empathy over victory and teaching our children the skills of complex connecting. Let us imagine the coming of the light.
I other words it is the opposite of the “resolute” unilateralism of the previous administration, which the Obama administration showed signs of abandoning early on. In that light, Obama’s win can be seen as a “slap” at the Bush administration.
The Nobel committee praised Obama’s creation of “a new climate in international politics” and said he had returned multilateral diplomacy and institutions like the U.N. to the center of the world stage. The plaudit appeared to be a slap at President George W. Bush from a committee that harshly criticized Obama’s predecessor for resorting to largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
NBC News reported that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called Obama with the news just before 6 a.m. Aides said the president felt “humbled” by the committee’s decision.
After all, Bush was nominated along with British prime minister Tony Blair, in 2002. But didn’t win.
So, got those spatulas ready?