Go Earn it Now, Mr. President

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai 

‘Listen to this,’ my boss said compulsively scanning his inseparable BlackBerry for a zillionth time. ‘Barack Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize!’

I laughed out loud. He was obviously kidding me, once again mocking my exaltation of Obama. We were standing at a traffic signal in front of the magnificent Town Hall building in Copenhagen. Along with us patiently waited dozens of Danes with their bicycles, an overwhelming majority of them being women.

There was a pleasant, coquettish nip in the air. The breathtaking square in the Danish capital is not far from the hotel where Michelle and Barack Obama had flown in last week for a couple of hours to plead Chicago’s case for the 2016 Olympics. Chicago of course lost the race to Rio.

“No, seriously! Obama is this year’s winner of the Peace Nobel,” he insisted shaking his head with his characteristic, bemused smirk in place.

I was stunned – too stunned for words. Despite being one of the early faithful of the Obama phenomenon, the news came as a huge surprise to me. So has it, it seems, to the world at large.

Reactions from both those attacking him and hundreds of millions of ordinary folks like me, touched by Obama’s message of hope, have been both swift and vociferous.

The issue has come as a Godsend to the self-righteous pundits weary of the Middle East, Iran’s nuclear hide-and-seek and the economy.

Just about every wonk on both left and right is going for the president’s jugular as if it was entirely his fault being chosen for the Nobel after only 265 days in office. He had been in the White House barely two weeks before the February 1 deadline for the Nobel nomination.

No wonder everyone is suitably surprised or shocked, according to his/her worldview or lack of it. A beloved friend of mine who tries to keep my missionary zeal in check from time to time called up angrily demanding, “What’s this? Some kind of joke?” as though I had been on the Nobel jury. But no one has been as bewildered by the Nobel panel’s life-changing decision as the winner has been. The shock was writ large on his ashen face as Obama talked of being ‘humbled’ by the honor. He wasn’t being polite in protesting he didn’t deserve the honor.

Every wonk worth his salt is rushing to point out that Obama has yet to deliver on his promises. He has, they argue, nothing to show for his ten months in office except for his soaring, uplifting rhetoric. His friends and foes — whose ranks have multiplied over the past few months – seem to agree on one thing: That the Nobel has come too early for the first black man in the White House. Too much too soon!

Then what is it that earned Obama the Nobel? The answer lies in this rather telling cartoon in the International Herald Tribune. The cartoon shows the Nobel panel chief making the much-awaited announcement as Alfred Nobel benignly smiled down on him: “The Nobel Peace Prize goes to Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts in NOT BEING GEORGE W. BUSH”.

Precisely! Obama is not Bush. And this appears to have been the sole criterion of the Nobel Committee in picking up this year’s winner of the world’s most coveted prize. And it’s not a small feat NOT being George W Bush considering what Obama’s predecessor visited on America and the world during his eight years in the White House. This president is everything that Bush was not. The two are as different as chalk and cheese, despite what the most cynics in the media choose to believe.

Unlike W, who saw the world as an endless battlefield where America was pitted against a legion of enemies, Obama has sought “a new way forward,” with the international community since long before he entered the White House.

This is not about Bush though. This is about Obama and what he stands for and has come to represent: Peace and reconciliation over confrontation and conflict. Although I agree the extraordinary accolade has come a tad early in his young presidency, I do not believe Obama does not qualify for the prize. He is certainly more deserving than the characters like Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and even Henry Kissinger who received it for “making peace,” whatever that means!

I believe he deserves it for the way he has tried to turn the world’s mightiest — and perhaps its most reckless — power around. From rediscovering the rule of law for America in its treatment of ‘usual suspects’ to pushing for a total ban on nuclear weapons to confronting the reality on climate change, Obama has been trying hard to bring his country to its senses.

But it’s his Middle East initiative and his valiant attempts to rein in Israel as well as his moves to reach out to the Islamic world that will eventually define his presidency.

Okay, I agree he hasn’t been terribly successful so far and his efforts are yet to show results. More important, America is still fighting two unjust, disastrous wars, and routinely targets innocent civilians on a daily basis from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What gives you hope though is the fact Obama appears to be trying hard and hasn’t given up on his own hopes for a better world. It’s still a long way to the finish, people, and he has just started!

Given Obama’s history and how he came in from behind as an implausible probable to snatch an incredible victory from the determined jaws of the scheming Clinton duo, I think it’s too soon to give up on Obama and his agenda of promise and hope.

After all, hope is all it takes. Hope is what won him this improbable presidency. And I hope it will eventually help him transform the world into a better and more just place. The Nobel wise men weren’t resorting to hyperbole in citing the way Obama has “captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future”.

This prize is a celebration of hope over hatred. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, himself a recipient of Peace Nobel, put it, “it’s an award that speaks to the promise of Obama’s message of hope.”

In the end, I don’t care if Obama deserves this award or not or whether it has come to him too soon. It really doesn’t matter now, does it? What really matters is what Obama makes of this immense honor.

He may not have made any peace, yet, to qualify for the Peace Nobel. But he could and must work for it now. As last year’s winner former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari argues, the award is a message from the international community to Obama to “push harder for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Nobel is a historic mandate and opportunity for the world’s first global president to finally deliver peace to the Middle East. For the road to world peace goes through the Holy Land. 

Eminent US economist Dr Jeffery Sachs hit it right between the eyes when he said the Nobel has started a fire under Obama’s feet. “He’d better earn it now,” warned Dr Sachs addressing a global media forum in Copenhagen last week. That’s it, Mr President! Go earn it now. And your countdown has already begun.

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: aijaz@khaleejtimes.com

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