The Meaning of Obama’s Nobel Prize? Diplomacy Rehabilitated

The saturation coverage of Obama’s big win has focussed overwhelmingly, and almost exclusively  on whether or not he deserves the prize based upon his performance in presidential office to date.

That is a worthwhile debate, and  a formidable case can be made on either side of the issue. No, Obama has not yet managed to deliver on much of what has been promised, perhaps especially as regards that hardy, and extremely thorny perennial, Middle East peace. But yes, there have been some very promising initial signs, such as substantially reprofiling of European missile defence, reaching out to the Islamic world, banning of torture and extraordinary rendition, moving to close Guantanamo Bay and the global network of  so-called “black” interrogation sites and secret prisons, repairing transatlantic relations, and so forth.

Much of this has already paid measurable dividends in terms of the restoration of America’s global image, reputation, soft power and influence.  Brand America is again showing some global lustre.

In any case, so far, we can see elements of both continuity and change in US international policy, and in these still early days the jury is out as to which trend will in the end prevail.

There is a sense, however, in which simply framing the question in that way obscures what seems to me the more profound political signal transmitted by the Nobel Committee. That message boils down to a very public gesture of support for diplomacy in general, and for American diplomacy in particular. After a protracted period of languishing on the sidelines, unilateralism and pre-emption have given way to dialogue, and diplomacy, which was mentioned three times in the Committee’s four paragraph announcement, has been restored as a legitimate tool of statecraft.

For the USA – and the world – the return of a preference for talking over fighting is well worth celebrating.

That conclusion, I believe, is unassailable, and to my mind represents the most compelling interpretation of Obama’s award.

For a much fuller treatment of the theme of diplomacy in rehab, please go here.

Back to Chomsky in my next post.