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October 09, 2009

America's Nobel Prize
Posted by Michael Cohen

So a couple of years ago I was traveling in Helsinki, Finland on vacation and my friend and I struck up a conversation with some folks at a bar. It turned into a wide-ranging discussion about both Finnish and American politics. At some point the conversation veered to Iraq, Gitmo etc and one of my interlocutors - a young Finnish woman who worked in Parliament - began talking passionately about how disappointed she was in the United States; how she always admired America and what it stood for, but that now she didn't recognize this country that she had loved from afar.

And then she began to cry.

I sort of think that's why Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace prize today. Today's completely unexpected honor is as clear a sign as you could ever receive that for all of our faults (and we have many) there are millions of people around the world who admire and love what America represents. They yearn for an America that not only adheres to its most basic values, but provides genuine leadership toward their realization - both at home and abroad. I think the Nobel Committee summed it up nicely:

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the committee said in its citation. “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

A year ago this nation was run by a man who eschewed international cooperation, who thumbed his nose at international conventions, who was complicit in the use of torture and who seemed to believe that bullying was a form of global leadership.** Now we have a President with the potential to not only reverse those disastrous positions, but to turn a new corner in global cooperation. And clearly, the world has noticed that potential - and they want America to lead. But above all they believe that America can be, perhaps the most important force for good in the world.

Yes I know that we are often not - and I know there is a lot of deserved cynicism about America's role in the world - but lest we ever forget there are millions of people around who admire what we stand for as a country. And they want us to live up to it.

This should be a humbling day for every America and an object lesson not only in the potential of American leadership, but in the inspirational power of the "idea" that is America. It's a great day for the USA.

**  A belated hat tip to Brian Beutler for putting this idea in my head in an e-mail conversation


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In addition to your point about the need for and return of American leadership, I also thought the fact that the committee "attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons” was significant. Clearly, Obama can't do this alone. He has worked to build international support for steps toward a nuclear weapons free world most recently at the UN.

With efforts for a new START treaty, US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban, and securing loose nuclear weapons material worldwide underway but the outcome uncertain, I appreciated President Obama accepting the Nobel Peace Prize as a "call to action." I think those of us who'd like to see the nuclear weapons threat reduced and a foreign policy re-oriented toward diplomacy will need to show our support for these initiatives over the coming months.

Now that Obama has won it, there is going to be a lot of international pressure on implementing the policies he still has on papers.

Now that Obama has won it,

Now that Obama has won it, there is going to be a lot of international pressure on implementing the policies he still has on papers.

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The Nobel Prize is an international award given yearly for oustanding achievements in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economic science, and for peace. Since its inception in 1901 by Alfred Nobel, many have received the prestigious award.But as well as the question of breadth of influence, there's the question of breadth of subject. The most clichéd complaint of the last couple of decades has been that English fiction, as opposed to American fiction, is "parochial" because American fiction is "ambitious".

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