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October 15, 2009

A Good Thing

Tony Soltero

When I first heard that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize, my initial reaction was a mixture of pride and puzzlement. While it's always gratifying to have an American win what is perhaps the most prestigious honor in the world, it did seem a bit premature for the Nobel Committee to give its award to a man who's only been the leader of the Free World for a few months.


But when the nation's conservatives all subsequently seemed to implode into an unhinged mass freak-out, pity party at the news, the Nobel Committee's reasoning emerged into a sharper focus, and it became increasingly obvious that this was a Nobel Prize not just for the president, but for all of America.


While most of the right is in denial about this, President Obama's predecessor's foreign policy – particularly the war in Iraq – was a signal to the rest of the world that America had lost its mind and its soul. The nation that the rest of the world had admired for decades was now preemptively attacking foreign countries under false pretenses, snatching up and torturing people without charges, abrogating international treaties, and alienating a slew of traditional allies. The kinds of things rogue dictatorships do.


The rest of the world had respected us; now they simply feared us. While that might make right-wingers feel good about themselves, it's hardly a sound basis for a functional relationship with the world.


The chattering classes in America severely understated just how badly the previous administration poisoned the well for us in the international community. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the entire planet rushed to support us and declared that "today, we are all Americans."


But the president at the time squandered the goodwill that came our way, focusing instead on a dubious-at-best war on a country that had nothing to do with the attacks. So, Barack Obama's election last November was an enormous relief for the rest of the world – there was finally hope for return to rationality in American foreign policy. And that was what the Nobel committee reacted to – it was a red carpet welcoming America back into the civilized world.


And while there remains a great deal of work to be done, in the area of re-engaging America with the global community of nations, President Obama has not disappointed. He was roundly criticized by knuckle-draggers about his supposed "naiveté" when he stated that we needed to talk to our enemies (yes, because bombing them to shreds has worked so well); but this approach has allowed us to make much more progress with Iran, Cuba and Palestine in six months than we had made in the previous eight years.


President Obama's Nobel Prize was an award for all of us. It was an appreciative recognition that America had at long last repudiated the neo-conservative doctrine of war as a first resort in favor of constructive, reason-based international engagement. It's no wonder the right has its knickers in a twist; it's a further marginalization of its one-dimensional foreign-policy ideas, such as they are.


For this sea change in our attitude towards the rest of the world, Barack Obama richly deserved his Nobel Peace Prize. Because when America promotes peace rather than war, the odds for peace dramatically improve for the entire planet.


And peace is a good thing.


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