Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize – Positive Reinforcement Therapy

After just nine months in office, U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2009.

As CNN reported, there were gasps in the room when the head of the Nobel prize committee made the announcement this morning.

The head of the Nobel prize committee explained that Obama won for his extraordinary efforts to improve the international climate and strengthen international diplomacy within the framework of international institutions (e.g., the United Nations).

(He added in a later interview on CNN that “of course, other people have to respond positively” – then he indicated that Obama’s distinction is due to his having given diplomacy a central position.)

The announcement also noted that Obama has revived global hopes of creating a world without nuclear weapons.

The message from the Nobel Prize Committee seems to be: keep up the good work.

It seems to be a form of Positive Reinforcement Therapy, in which rewards are given for good behavior (instead of punishments for being bad…)

The results are not yet in on Obama’s involvement in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

It was good that he has ordered an end to talking about the “war against terror”, and to portraying all Muslims as the enemy.

But is Obama just getting the Nobel Peace Prize for who he is, rather than what he has done?

Obama’s desire to engage in dialog with Iran deserves credit. Mohamed ElBaradei, outgoing head of IAEA, said that “We wasted 6 years on the Iranian issue — we have mismanaged it …I can’t see any other way of handling it other than Iran and the US sitting at the table across from each other …”

Then again, what about the crisis in Afghanistan, where Obama continues to prosecute the war against the nebulous Al-Qaeda group, and many civilians seem to be paying the price. Obama may even be considering sending more troops to Afghanistan, rather than to drawn down forces and withdraw.

My friend and colleague Robert James Parsons, journalist at the UN Office in Geneva, wrote in an email message this morning: “Was Obama three days in office, or merely two, when he signed the order for the bombing of Pakistan? Here at the Geneva Office of the United Nations, on Tuesday and Friday mornings, at the general press briefing, we are updated twice weekly on the plight of the 2.7 MILLION people displaced by the mindless bombing of their homeland, updated as well on a seemingly endless list of schools, clinics, dispensaries etc. destroyed. This is as much a war of aggression against a sovereign country as was the launching of the war against Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq … With regard to Afghanistan, Secretary of State told U.N. Secretary-General that the United States had ‘irrefutable’ evidence proving that the Taliban regime was directly behind the September 11 attacks and that this evidence would shortly be presented to the Security Council, to justify this ‘war of self-defence’. In the meantime, lest precious time be lost, the bombing set up during the summer, proceeded apace. Eight years later to the day, the U.N. Security Council is still waiting for this evidence”.

And Obama continues to talk about “destroying the Al-Qaeda organization”.

There has to be a better way to do it.

To really deserve this peace prize, Obama should wind down these wars … and face up to the issue of torture, and the detention facilities in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq where possibly innocent detainees have been held in an unconsionable legal limbo for years.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (jointly with the UN Panel on Climate Change), both won the Nobel Peace Prize, but after leaving office.

It was later reported by Haaretz, combining reports from news agencies, that “Obama’s press secretary woke him with the news before dawn and the president felt ‘humbled’ by the award, a senior administration official said. When told in an email from Reuters that many people around the world were stunned by the announcement, Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, responded: ‘As are we’.”

Once fully awake and out of bed, Obama said in front of the cameras later that “I will accept this award as a call to action”

Then, I can’t help recalling the recent words of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote recently that “I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination. What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, ‘Should Obama be killed?’ The choices were: “No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.” The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin … And Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet ‘socialist’ to calling him a ‘liar’ in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives. Again, hack away at the man’s policies and even his character all you want. I know politics is a tough business. But if we destroy the legitimacy of another president to lead or to pull the country together for what most Americans want most right now — nation-building at home — we are in serious trouble … We can’t change this overnight, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable”. This Thomas Friedman article can be read in full here.

During the presidential elections campaign before Obama was elected, there was something similar — predictions were wrongly made that because some people could never accept a president like him, he would be assassinated within six months. That, thankfully, proved wrong. But these are indeed stupid, ugly, and irresponsible speculations.

But what I wonder is: will winning the Nobel Peace Prize do anything to stop this, or will it only make it worse?

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