Barack Obama has inspired many people around the world, the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee members clearly high among them. The president has spoken of the need for common understanding and expressed dismay that there are nuclear weapons. This clearly struck a chord with the committee.
Did President Obama deserve the prize? It depends what you think the prize is for. If it is to recognize a record of accomplishment, then he does not. He has achieved very little so far. He may yet do great things; it's not really fair to expect that he would have done so in his first nine months in office.
If, instead, the prize is meant as an endorsement of an ideal, then it's easier to understand. President Obama has painted a vision of America's role in the world that has great appeal to many.
There is certain to be controversy because people confuse their Norwegians and their Swedes and they will confuse an aspirational Peace Prize (Norway) with the recognition of great accomplishment embodied by the prizes in chemistry, physics, economics, or medicine (Sweden). It will also provoke controversy because it appears to be a statement about American political choices. Most nations are touchy about having foreigners weigh in on their domestic debates.
The danger with a symbolic choice is that we are at a stage where aspiration is hitting up hard against reality. Will the president send more troops to Afghanistan? Will anything happen with Middle East peace? Will we have a trade war? Will the United States have anything to offer at the Copenhagen climate talks? Although the Norwegians may be very enthused now about the president's speeches, it will be interesting to see whether they are equally enthused in the future about his performance.
I will leave it to my fellow Shadow Government contributors to opine on the merits of a U.N.-based approach to global governance and the prospects for worldwide disarmament. In my arena of international economics, there has has been a sharp disconnect between the president's rhetoric about multilateral understanding and his unilateralist approach to trade and fiscal policy.
Philip I. Levy is a resident scholar at AEI.