Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Hard Work of Peace

The debate over the appropriateness of the Peace Prize award continues to roil the the blogospheric waters. It will end up being a political liability, I suspect, especially after Obama himself sheepishly admitted he did not deserve the prize - and accepted it anyway. A gracious declination would have made a positive impression on people like myself; those who are skeptical of Obama's actual talents but want to see him succeed because no one can afford to lose more ground to the Movement Conservatives. (For example, I am pleased to see him publicly committing to end DADT and DOMA, but will wait for tangible results before breaking out the champagne.) I wait, as do most of the reasonable skeptics I know, to see Obama personally perform the hard work of peace.

The committee described the President's efforts as extraordinary. That is, for me, where the cognitive dissonance kicks in. I don't see him personally doing things that are out of the ordinary for what any center-left politician would do. He opposes nuclear proliferation, which is good but kind of old hat; he wants to use diplomacy aggressively in foreign policy, to which I say "Booyah!", but don't see anything at variance with the previous Democratic (or, for that matter, most Republican administrations prior to Bush/Cheney - Reagan sat down with the Russkies and Nixon went to China, after all); he isn't bugfuck insane like Cheney, isn't saying he will follow Bush's doctrine of preemptive war, and lately there's been some more mumbling about closing Gitmo, but how is any of this extraordinary for a rational, moderately humane leader to do? The argument that somehow this will inspire/lead/compel/influence/springboard/all sorts of nouns-turned-into-verbs kind of claims him, or other leaders, or opponents, or the mass of humanity, or some marmosets in the local zoo to do, erm, stuff for peace doesn't pass the sniff test. It makes the committee look ridiculous.

Peace is the slow boring of holes into stone. It calls upon people and nations to change patterns of behavior that have been followed for years, sometimes centuries, and can be overturned by a single person determined to spoil the outcome. It takes diplomacy and determination, not to mention the patience of Job, to keep things moving in the right direction. I read a front page item on the BBC site just now that illustrates what this work looks like. Here's a long excerpt from "Front seat view of Clinton diplomacy":
The ceremony for the signing of two protocols to normalise relations and establish diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia had been due to start at 1700.
The Clinton motorcade left the Dolder Hotel at 1700, snaking its way down the hills towards Zurich University and the Churchill hall, the venue of the event.
The motorcade stopped, we started to get out but were suddenly instructed to get back in.
The doors were slammed, the cars made a U-turn and we retraced our steps, amid much confusion in the press vans, where journalists accompanying the secretary started taking guesses and making frantic phone calls. ...
The Armenians had objected to the statement that the Turks were planning to make at the ceremony and had never left the hotel. The Turks were already at the venue. It was high drama diplomacy as the negotiations unfolded in front of us.
The secretary of state worked the phones, two mobile phones in fact according to officials, as her staff hovered, brought papers to her and ran in and out of the hotel.
At one point a police car took off, all sirens wailing, only to return some five minutes later, carrying back another piece of paper - the Turkish statement with handwritten edits from the Turkish delegation still waiting at Zurich University.
Mrs Clinton eventually went into the hotel while we all waited and sent out our stories for the world to hear.
Two hours after the ceremony was due to start, Mrs Clinton and her Armenian counterpart finally emerged and got into her car together.
There was no turning back this time for Edward Nalbandian, though he still made calls to his president back in Yerevan.
Mrs Clinton later told reporters she did most of the talking, appealing to the minister not to walk away from what had been achieved so far. She also said that both sides had raised concerns.
We arrived at the university expecting the ceremony to start and then we waited some more.
By e-mail, Mrs Clinton's staffers informed us that the situation was "fluid".
Intense shuttle diplomacy was going - the Turks were in one room, the Armenians in another as the Swiss mediators, and the American, Russians, French and others went back and forth, carrying pieces of paper.
Ministers missed their planes, Mrs Clinton missed her London dinner plans but an hour-and-a-half later, the Armenians and the Turks put pen to paper.
The Armenians and the Turks. What an unlikely diplomatic combination. Now, obviously, I'm tickled pink to see the Lady in the Pantsuit take charge and make stuff happen, and I suspect that she made a difference in the speed with which this upset was resolved enough to allow the protocols to be signed, but the bigger picture is that this is what it takes to bring a substantive change in the world.

This is an example of what the Obama administration and Obama himself is going to have to do non-stop for the next 3 and a quarter years to come close to earning that Peace Prize. It will have to be paired with innovative responses to the dangers of Afghanistan, as both Pat Lang and Wes Clark have been discussing for literally years, to avoid being dragged down into the black hole the NeoCons opened up in the region. And then there is climate change, women's rights, weapons trafficking, and half a hundred other issues, problems, crises and problems that are all part of the puzzle that is peace.

Some people in Yurp may adore The Precious, and because they do, they will hand him presents and hope he loves them in return. That is different than evaluating what this administration's foreign policy team has accomplished and what direction they will end up going. Obama is not an emperor, no matter what WFN wishes were true, and the effect this award has on him personally is pretty much irrelevant. He cannot will peace into existence - it must painstakingly be built one intervention or negotiation or late night phone call at a time. Credit must be given to Obama for having put together a set of leaders who, frankly, expose his inadequacy in this area. (Then again, he has also put together an economic policy team that does likewise, but with destructive results, so maybe he just picks big names and hopes they'll get the job done.) The point is that this award will not change the path that the foreign policy team is going to follow, even as it has made their work more difficult.

Work, not will, not wishes, is the substance of peace.


PS - Pat Lang has weighed in on the prize. It is a hilarious smackdown of the prize committee, neatly skewering their pretention with a cold dash of reality, as well as conveying the real message - "The president does not deserve this reward for any action he has taken. He knows that. He may some day deserve the award, but he does not deserve it now." I am especially amused by the use of George Marshall's portrait with the post. It works on so many levels.


Briar said...

Not all Yurpeans are bowled over by Obama. Most of the ones I know are just as baffled by this award. Mairead Mcguire puts it perfectly:

Speaking from Belfast regarding the NPP Award to President Obama, Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in l976. said:

‘I am very disappointed to hear that the Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama.

They say this is for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples, and yet he continues the policy of militarism and occupation of Afghanistan, instead of dialogue and negotiations with all parties to the conflict.

I believe the award is premature.

Furthermore,I believe the Nobel Committee has not met the conditions of Alfred Nobel’s will where he stipulates it is to be awarded to those who work for an end to
militarism and war, and for disarmament. This is not the first time the Nobel Peace Committee in Oslo has ignored the will of Alfred Nobel and acted against the spirit of what the Nobel Peace Prize is all about.

Giving this award to the Leader of the most militarized country in the world, which has taken the human family, against its will, to war will be rightly seen by many people around the world, as a reward for his country’s aggression and domination’.

R. S. Martin said...

No disrespect intended to Hillary and her crew, but after reading what the Nobel Committee cited in support of the prize, I couldn't see much difference between what Obama has done and what you'd expect from your average beauty pageant contestant. Speeches advocating world peace, nuclear disarmament, and a greater commitment to environmentalism? Oh, wow.

And I still can't get past the fact that while Obama was performing his "I am not worthy" routine for the cameras, his lackeys at the DNC were denouncing critics of the award for siding with the terrorists. I also remember watching Morning Joe Friday morning. Scarborough was making light of the award, and co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Savannah Guthrie suddenly got e-mails from a "senior White House official" (probably Robert Gibbs) telling them to tell Joe to "quit acting like an asshole." It's the same two-step we saw with the racism accusations against the Clintons during the primaries. Regardless of what Obama says, he and his people clearly feel he was more than entitled to this award.

I finally decided to dive into Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. It's an extremely adolescent book in a lot of ways, particularly in its attitude towards its (inhuman) protagonist, but I'm quite struck by its apparent villain, a character named Peter Keating. He's an upwardly mobile mediocrity whose talents are for gladhanding, impressing people with his "potential," and taking credit for other people's work. Oh, and he's also big on putting the screws to people he feels are standing in the way of his ascent up the ladder of success. Gee, who does he remind me of?

Anne said...

.... I am pleased to see him publicly committing to end DADT and DOMA, but will wait for tangible results before breaking out the champagne.

This is a wise policy with any Obama promise.

NĂ¡mo Mandos said...

I thought that the Nobel committee's choice was awesome and hilarious because it was a bold act of IRL trollery, of which the world seriously needs more. They managed to befuddle everyone uniformly with it, which is what an international award for "Peace" should by all means do.