The news that “both surprised and humbled” the free world late last week, was that its leader, Barack Husein Obama, won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. That this was not an ordinary announcement was seen from wide ranging reactions across the world over the weekend. The mood was best captured by Lech Walesa, the 1983 Peace Prize winner and Poland’s president from 1990 to 1995, who told reporters in Warsaw: “Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast—he hasn’t had the time to do anything yet.”
According to the committee “Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics.” Surprising! Given that he had assumed office only two weeks before the Feb. 1 deadline for nominations. When asked whether the award was, perhaps, premature, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland compared Mr. Obama to Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms had also not borne fruit when they had received the prize. “The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” Jagland said. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
There is enough in the public domain on what Mr. Obama did or didn’t do – at least not yet! But let’s take Mr. Gorbachev’s example. I am not an expert on anything – and definitely not anything Russian, so don’t take my word for it. 20 years after Mr. Gorbachev won the Prize, none other than President Dmitry Medvedev, in his article, Go Russia!, published on the government’s official website on September 10, 2009 asked of the Russian people, “First, let’s answer a simple but very serious question. Should a primitive economy based on raw materials and endemic corruption accompany us into the future?…And if Russia can not relieve itself from these burdens, can it really find its own path for the future?”
Mikhail Gorbachev won the Prize for his work in ending Cold War tensions. Since coming to power in 1988, Gorbachev had undertaken to concentrate more effort and funds on his domestic reform plans by going to extraordinary lengths to reach foreign policy understandings with the noncommunist world.
Some of his accomplishments include
(i) Hope: Four summits with President Ronald Reagan, including a 1987 meeting at which an agreement was reached to dismantle the U.S. and USSR intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
Result: The missile systems in Europe are still present and were recently upgraded. The threat perception remains the same but the focus nonetheless has moved from Russia to Iran in the current scheme of things there.
(ii) Hope: Removal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and exerted diplomatic pressure on Cuba and Vietnam to remove their forces from Angola and Kampuchea (Cambodia), respectively.
Result: While Soviet troops moved out of Afghanistan, the world moved towards unipolarity and American foreign policy stretched its security requirement in almost every country including South America (minus Brazil, Argentina, and Chile), most of Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
(iii) Hope: In a 1989 meeting with President George Bush, Gorbachev declared that the Cold War was over.
Result– Although not attributable to him, global security worsened after the end of the Cold War – not his fault.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s dramatic policy initiatives transformed the Soviet Union and reshaped the world. But while international leaders hailed him as a hero, his own country was teetering on the brink of disintegration and his political standing hit rock bottom. For the average Soviet citizen, the country’s administrative paralysis and economic disorder overshadowed the remarkable scope of the changes triggered by Gorbachev since he came to power.
So you see, good intentions are what Mr. Gorbachev had and now, so does Mr. Obama. Applying Chairman Jagland’s logic, it is safe to assume that Mr. Gorbachev won the Prize because before him there was no Soviet leader who even hoped to create a path out of the chaos created by the Cold War for ordinary citizens of the erstwhile USSR. Mr. Gorbachev did at least that much and hoped to do much more and for that he was rewarded. But did his hopes render fruition? Russia is still reeling under chaos. Could it have been worse? Probably.
As regards Mr. Obama, why did the Norwegian committee award him the Prize, only nine months into his presidency? The committee cited Mr. Obama’s efforts at (i) nuclear nonproliferation (ii) his outreach to the Muslim world, and (iii) emphasis on multilateralism.
Lets see the progress that Mr. Obama has achieved so far.
(i) Hope: Nuclear non-proliferation
Result: Iran is a case in point. Despite the President’s pledge to limit Iran’s nuclear capability Tehran continues to produce uranium. Radical Islamists in Af-Pak seem dangerously close to gaining access to Pakistani nuclear capabilities and North Korea thumbs its nose at the White House every other week.
(ii) Hope: Reaching out to the Muslim world
Result: Accomplishment on the Israeli- Palestinian front? Nothing. The Israelis continue to fortify settlements while the US looks the other way. The U.S. is fanning the same hostility that Mr. Obama hoped to eliminate in his Cairo speech.
(iii) Hope: Emphasis on multilateralism
Result: In the Mideast peace plan Mr. Obama’s has lost a considerable amount of support from the Arab world. He did expand the G-8 to include emerging economies at the big table, but its still symbolic. At the UN, there was no consensus on global red flag issues such as climate change, financial security and pulling up rogue nations to address terror. Gestures were at best symbolic such as promising emerging economies voting rights to control IMF, more say at the global climate change forum etc.
Of course, one cannot solely blame the President for these failures. No leader, however transformational on the global stage, would be able to successfully complete all idealistic objectives in such a short period of time. Yet, although he still enjoys incredible global popularity, people around the world seem to increasingly believe that his “audacity of hope” will not live up to his “yes we can” rhetoric.
Yet he is the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner. And why is that? Because we don’t know if there is anyone else who is better! And that gives us hope! Dispassionately analyzed, President Obama seems to have won the coveted Nobel Prize based on trying to create a world where Palestinians would be listened to, Muslims across the world would no longer need to worry about American military might and the Guantanamo Bay prison would shut down. Iran would shut its nuclear shop and not threaten Middle Eastern peace, allied troops would exit Iraq and Afghanistan, the Taliban would be destroyed, Pakistan would no longer create and export terror and North Koreans would get food to eat and be allowed to see their friends and family from the South. Not to mention that his own American people would have jobs and money and healthcare would be cheaper and more accessible to them. He seems to have come a long way from the time when Hillary Clinton, then his opponent in the race for Presidential nomination, had quipped that the White House was not a place to “learn on the job”!
Along with Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Obama, there is one more person who is a contender for the Peace Prize – me! Lets see why.
(i) Hope: Environmentally conscious:
Result: I do it everyday!! I save energy by pooling cars and saving fuel, switching off lights and fans and saving electricity, limiting A/C usage to 6 hours only at 25 deg C. I do not print out every mail I receive, recycle paper, donate to environmental charities and patronize products of environmentally conscious companies. I hope to influence others to do it too…someday! Maybe winning the Prize will help popularize this hope.
(ii) Hope: Give back to society
Result: Popularizing micro-financing through a blog [that no one reads], providing ideas on how the National Rural Health Mission can be run better and hope to execute projects that help every human being in the world gains access to personalized medicines one day in the not so distant future – yes even the poor Americans who’s government spends 16% of its massive GDP and yet cannot ensure affordable healthcare for them!
(iii) Hope: Normal Indian
Result: Want the Delhi Games to happen, feel ashamed when people “mark their territories” publicly [paan ka peek or susu on the sidewalk], have plans on how to rid the country of corruption, elect citizen representatives and make life in general better for my family and those of others and do not care if its Bombay or Mumbai
Since its accepted that the “audacity of hope” determines the Prize winner and not the results thereof, then why shouldn’t I win the Prize for 2010? I admit I haven’t brought in waves of change like other nominees such as Silvio Berlusconi or Michael Jackson or Ben Kingsley – but in keeping with the theme – I hope to!