Editorial: Obama must show he deserves peace prize

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Congratulations to President Barack Obama on receiving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize last week. He has the remainder of his term to prove that the honor was not premature.

Obama became the first chief executive to receive the peace prize so early in his tenure.

A recent Associated Press article correctly noted that: “Obama was chosen for the award more for his aspirations and approach than his accomplishments thus far. The Nobel committee honored him for changing the tenor of international politics and pursuing goals that the winner himself says will take a world effort, like nuclear disarmament and reversing global warming.”

The award reflects the president’s worldwide popularity and the international perception that he represents a different approach to foreign affairs than his predecessor, former president George W. Bush.

In many ways the award represents the hope that Obama’s presidential campaign promised rather than any actual accomplishments by a president still in his first year in office.

In accepting the peace prize, Obama appears to have acknowledged the perceptions of many who think the honor is too soon.

“Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize—Schweitzer and King: Marshall and Mandela—my accomplishments are slight,” said the president in his acceptance speech.

While the president himself acknowledges he is not yet in the company of people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, he is also not in the company of some other more controversial figures who have received the peace prize.

In 1973, the Noble Peace Prize committee picked American diplomat Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho for negotiating the end to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Yet as former foreign policy adviser and secretary of state to President Richard Nixon, Kissinger is partly blamed for the secret bombing of Cambodia and a bloody coup in Chile. Le Duc Tho was blamed for the brutal re-education camps imposed by North Vietnam. Le Duc Tho had the decency to decline the award.

In accepting the peace prize, Obama gave an ironically hawkish message that presented an ideological justification for sending an additional 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

“I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people,” Obama told his audience in Oslo, Norway. “For make no mistake, evil does exist in the world.”

The president is right that evil does exist and that “a nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida’s leaders to lay down their arms.”

However, this is a false choice. Most of the world’s conflicts between nations cannot be compared to the evil menace of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The Hitler analogy is overused by U.S. presidents and other politicians to justify and exaggerate almost every conceivable national security threat, conflict or adversary—real and imagined.

It is also a straw man argument to suggest that there is a great support for the pacifist belief that war is never necessary. The fact is that leaders sometimes claim “just wars” to silence critics and rationalize wars that are not justified.

The president should be concerned that many of those praising his acceptance speech are the same conservatives and media that supported the war in Iraq and compared significant portions of his speech to the policies advocated by President George W. Bush.

Conservative pundit William Kristol showed in a post-Obama acceptance op-ed how Obama’s peace prize speech expressed many of the same foreign policy ideas given by President Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address.

The major difference is that Obama is more eloquent and cloaked his pro-war policies in more academic sounding rhetoric that emphasizes a more multilateral approach.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Kristol called Obama’s speech “the most Bush-like speech of his presidency” and that it articulated his own version of the pre-emptive doctrine.

Kristol said Obama’s speech laid the groundwork for a preemptive strike on Iran.

The truth is the jury is still out on whether Obama will be the peacemaker that the Nobel Peace Prize committee and most of the world hoped he would be when was elected.

In the coming years, as the leader of the world’s most powerful military super power, the president will get the chance to earn the Noble Peace Prize that he received last week.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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