October 20, 2009
Much has been written about the selection of President Obama as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. I was among those, including the media representatives present at the announcement and Obama himself, who was surprised to hear the news of his winning.
To be sure, Obama does not yet have the record of achievement of the two other sitting presidents to win the award: Theodore Roosevelt, for his work in negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War, and Woodrow Wilson, who led the United States through World War I and founded the League of Nations. That is not entirely Obama’s fault; after all, he has only been in office for nine months.
As rumors surfaced late last week that a majority of the committee originally opposed his selection, we have to recognize the larger statements that were at the heart of this decision. This was a repudiation of the Bush administration’s international relations, as well as a fundamental shift in the symbolism of the award — rather than recognizing previous achievements, the committee was encouraging progress that they hope will be made in this instance on climate change, international cooperation and nuclear disarmament.
I mean no partisan rancor in saying Obama should not have been given the award this early in his career; in fact, I think Bill Clinton is more deserving of the award for his innovative work in uniting the private and public sectors to cure social problems.
I would be frustrated if I was in Obama’s shoes, I might actually be slightly frustrated by the award so early in the term — after all, if he is successful in delivering on any of the ideas that the committee highlighted in its announcement, he will have lost the opportunity to be recognized for truly achieving great things in international diplomacy.
Regardless of the shock — and anger in some cases — that many felt about the award, the decision has been made, and the onus is on Obama to fulfill the international aspirations noted by the committee — and a few at home as well.
Abroad, he has a responsibility to make decisions on America’s role in Afghanistan for the right reasons — not to please the Nobel committee retroactively. He must find ways to either talk to or otherwise deal with Tehran, and find other superpowers willing to find solutions on the proper stance towards Iran. He dropped the Eastern European missile shield in the hopes that the move would encourage Moscow to find common ground with the United States in dealing with Iran, but bilateral discussions led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week produced an “agree to disagree” stance between the United States and Russia as it pertains to Iran.
At home, Obama needs to reexamine his plans on health care. Although he started out discussing fundamental reforms to a system that most people would agree is flawed, the Baucus bill that is scheduled to go to the Senate floor for debate this week is far from making any true transformations. We need to strengthen the link between consumers of health care and payers for it, so that people see the consequences of their lifestyle and health spending choices.
Unfortunately, the current proposals do just the opposite — they weaken the consumer/payer tie by adding the government as a participant in the decision-making.
Further, no health care proposal is going to fully achieve cost containment if it does not address tort reform, the force that is steadily increasing malpractice insurance rates, and by extension, the costs of health care overall.
President Obama certainly has his work cut out for him, and for the sake of our nation, I hope he succeeds in finding solutions both at home and abroad. But until he does, any international honors are premature.