Richard Reeves

Better Jaw Jaw Than War War

LOS ANGELES -- Obviously, the world, or at least a heck of a lot of foreigners, love Barack Obama. The Nobel Peace Prize is an impressive, if surprising, symbol of that.

The prize, one hopes, will give American moral standing a boost after revelations of torture and such in recent years. Ironically, though, it will probably increase the xenophobia of the American right. Mouthy conservatives are going to see this as proof that Obama is not one of "us." They're going to say he's one of "them" -- them being most anyone who does not speak English as a first language and some who do.

One right-winger, who happens to be a foreigner, the Israeli legislator Danny Danon, belittled Obama as winning for "wishful thinking." Clever line, but, in fact, the President does deserve the prize as it was originally defined in 1895 by Alfred Nobel, once the owner of one of the world's pre-eminent arms manufacturer, Bofors, in Sweden. Perhaps feeling a bit ambivalent about inventing dynamite, Nobel directed Swedish leaders to reward "the person who shall have done the most or best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."

In Washington, it would be hard to get "Obama," "Congress" and "peace" in the same sentence, but the American leader (and the American people he represents) has done extraordinary work in promoting somewhat utopian "fraternity between the nations." It can be argued that most anyone could have done that after the reign of a pre-emptive warrior such as George W. Bush, but Obama was the one who did it. As Sally Field might have put it, in many parts of the world, "They like us, they really like us."

In announcing the prize to a gasping audience in Oslo, Norway, that country's former prime minister, Thorbjoern Jagland, said:

"Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. ... 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. 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."

American right-wingers were at least as surprised as the Oslo audience and Danny Danon.

"At first I thought the announcement of the prize was a joke," said Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for the second President Bush. "On further reflection, the Nobel Committee has made itself a joke. It has decided to give a ribbon before the race, a trophy for aspiration, a gold star for admirable sentiments."

Actually, who is against admirable sentiments for men and women who control armies?

Anticipating the criticism, which will build and build as Foxy commentators vent their outrage against foreigners, of whom they suspect Obama is one, Jagland said after the announcement: "The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world. And who has done more than Barack Obama? Look at the level of confrontation we had just a few years ago. Now we get a man who is not only willing but probably able to open dialogue and strengthen international institutions."

Or, as was said at the White House in 1954 by a visitor named Winston Churchill: "To jaw-jaw always is better than to war-war."

Back to reality, or what passes for reality in Washington. Perhaps our new Peace Prize winner can use his many rhetorical skills to end all the war-war here at home. Who knows, maybe admirable sentiments could win him another Nobel.

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