David Rothkopf

And, now, introducing the Nobel Hope Prize…

Thank God for Yasir Arafat. (Speaking of opening sentences I never thought I would write…) Thank God for Yasir Arafat because by winning a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, he at least assures that no one can say that U.S. President Barack Obama is the most ludicrous choice in the history of ...

Thank God for Yasir Arafat. (Speaking of opening sentences I never thought I would write…)

Thank God for Yasir Arafat because by winning a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, he at least assures that no one can say that U.S. President Barack Obama is the most ludicrous choice in the history of an award that has a pretty dubious history.

On the other hand, despite a lifetime as a terrorist and despite the ineffective (and one might argue insincere) nature of his pursuit of peace, you have to admit Arafat spent a lot more time involved in international peace negotiations than Obama has done. The same is true for Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho, D.J. Kim, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and the other past winners of the award who made my list of dubious Peace Prize choices back in August.

This is the most aspirational Nobel Prize in the history of an award that was about the politics of hope long before the president. In fact, the citation of the Nobel Committee indicates that this is the first time in the history of this nutty award that a recipient has been chosen almost solely based on what the grey eminences in Oslo hope he will do at some point ahead. They wrote: "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."

Ah, now I get it, it’s become the Nobel Hope Prize.

It cannot be denied that the committee zeroed in on many of the most promising elements of Obama’s foreign policy. These include outreach to the Muslim world, promotion of multilateral diplomacy, and his goal of reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles worldwide. I, for one, hope that sometime … sometime real soon … the president has real accomplishments in all these areas … or in any of them.

But it is in using the word "hope" again in his comments on the award that Nobel Prize Peace Prize Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland underscores what one can only conclude is the real impetus behind the award. As reported by the Washington Post, Jagland, trying to defend the choice, began unconvincingly with, "We have not given the prize for what may happen in the future. We are awarding Obama for what he has done in the past year." But then, almost inevitably, came the real reason: "And we are hoping this may contribute a little bit for what he is trying to do."

It’s as if a freshman tailback were handed the Heisman Trophy as he ran onto the playing field along with a hearty pat on the back and the explanation that he’d been selected to encourage him to have a great year to come.

Some observers, like David Gregory (who joined a stunned and bemused crew on "Morning Joe" this morning as they scrambled to try to assess the win), have suggested that once again Obama was winning international kudos for being the un-George W. Bush. The White House’s David Axelrod, who as shaper of Obama’s image probably deserves at least a share of this award given its apparent nature, shrugged this off saying he didn’t know the politics of the Nobel Committee.

Let me be clear: Everything the committee saluted deserves a salute.  Everything they say they hope for, we all should hope for. But this is as extreme a case of premature exaltation as has ever taken place outside of Hollywood. As someone who is in the process of writing a book at the moment, I only wish the Nobel literature committee worked to the same standard. (In case they do, they may forward the award to the offices of Foreign Policy, which can get it to me.) The literature team however, works to a different standard of course, regularly celebrating obscurity (Herta Müller, anyone?) rather than — as the peace committee often does — letting celebrity obscure reality.

As Obama thinks about how to handle this, shall we say, unexpected bit of good fortune, my sense is that he ought to consider following the example of one of his fellow winners. Because Henry Kissinger, at least, had the decency not to go pick up his award. (Of course, the circumstances are different. Kissinger had done many things that should have disqualified him from this award. Obama has yet to do that much at all.) So seriously, consider handling this with true dignity and humility. Don’t put on the white tie. Let the honor hang out there. Let others hail you all they will.  And focus on earning the award you have already won.

UPDATE: Short of deferring his acceptance of the Nobel Prize, President Obama could not have struck a better tone in his remarks this morning accepting the award. From saying he did not deserve it to framing the award as a "call to action" to citing others who merited such an award, he was pitch-perfect. And in reciting some of his key goals — from the elimination of nuclear weapons to combating climate change to bringing a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine — he raised hope that the award might be even further motivation to advance to what are, as noted above, worthy objectives.

As for the Republicans who are trying to use the award to denigrate Obama, they, as usual, go too far. If anyone is to be taken to task for the premature award of the prize to Obama, it is the Nobel Committee itself. Obama deserves great credit that he has generated so much enthusiasm from them. And if he follows through in action what he captured so well this morning in tone, it is always possible the committee may someday be viewed as prescient rather than premature.

 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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