President Barack Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. That's an indictment, not a compliment. Rather than living up to the honor, it should be Obama's mission to show he's thoroughly unworthy of it.
The Nobel Peace Prize comes in three flavors. It is sometimes awarded to statesmen for accomplishments. Think Theodore Roosevelt brokering peace between Russia and Japan after their 1905 war, or Woodrow Wilson personally negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. It is awarded to human-rights activists resisting repressive regimes. Dissidents Shirin Ebadi (Iran) and Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma) exemplify this standard. Lastly, it is given to "citizens of the world" who seek to throttle American power.
Even Obama's supporters concede he doesn't belong in the first category of diplomatic giants (yet). And even by the self-pitying standards of Michelle Obama, Barack Obama isn't a victim of persecution. That leaves the third category, putting him in league with such highly politicized recent recipients of the prize as Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, and Mohamed ElBaradei. He should recoil from this woeful company.
Annan won jointly with the U.N. in 2001. The organization was reeling from episodes of deadly fecklessness in Bosnia and Rwanda, where it established a peace of the grave for Bosnia's Muslims and for hundreds of thousands of Tutsis. But so what? The prize had a transparently political point: to bolster the U.N. so Pres. George W. Bush would feel constrained by it when responding to the September 11 attacks.
Carter? Yes, he has the Camp David Accords and decades of good works. But when he won in 2002, his main appeal was as a scourge of Bush the warmonger. ElBaradei and his International Atomic Energy Agency jointly won the prize in 2005 on similar grounds. ElBaradei had opposed the Iraq War and made it his mission to forestall military action against Iran's nuclear program.
Commentators have noted the "aspirational" nature of Obama's prize. What, at bottom, is the aspiration? The same as with the Annan, Carter, and ElBaradei prizes: to tame America, to encourage it to accommodate its enemies, to make it a "normal" nation occupying a humble place in the multilateral tapestry of the world.
For the five Norwegian parliamentarians who make up the Nobel Committee, Obama is a godsend. They look at him and see a version of themselves - a self-consciously sophisticated internationalist appalled by America for much of this decade and committed to constraining its power in a net of international organizations. Except Obama happens to be the president of the United States. This is a near miracle, and one the committee couldn't ignore.
Given this context, Obama should be insulted, not "humbled," by the prize. He has managed to convince the Nobel Committee that he shares its post-American view of the world. The apologies for his country, the embrace of the U.N., the ridiculous talk of global disarmament, the distance from Israel and kid gloves for Iran, the slaps at American hegemony - all are the stuff of shame-faced American weakness and retrenchment, uttered by the most powerful American on the planet.
If the Nobel Committee is right about Obama, he will force Israel into an unsustainable peace, or throw it overboard; he will reach an accommodation with a nuclear Iran; he will let Afghanistan slide back into chaos (perhaps with the cover of a notional deal with the Taliban); and he will give China and Russia a veto over all significant American international actions in the U.N. Security Council. On the domestic front, he will bring a European-style welfare state to U.S. shores, and watch as the dominance of the dollar fades, another artifact of an era of post-World War II American pre-eminence that he implicitly declares over.
This is the promise the Nobel Committee sees in Obama, and why - if he is to succeed as an American president as opposed to a crowd-pleasing citizen of the world - he must prove it wrong.