The good, the bad, and the interesting of Obama’s peace prize

By Ian Bremmer Last week was perhaps the most surreal one of Barack Obama’s presidency so far. In the midst of a massive internal debate about what to do with a failing war in Afghanistan, he won the Nobel Peace Prize — a mixed blessing for several reasons. Domestically, the Nobel creates a problem because ...

By , the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media.
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WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 09: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at an event in the East Room of the White House in support of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency and urging Congress to act quickly on October 9, 2009 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By Ian Bremmer

Last week was perhaps the most surreal one of Barack Obama's presidency so far. In the midst of a massive internal debate about what to do with a failing war in Afghanistan, he won the Nobel Peace Prize -- a mixed blessing for several reasons.

By Ian Bremmer

Last week was perhaps the most surreal one of Barack Obama’s presidency so far. In the midst of a massive internal debate about what to do with a failing war in Afghanistan, he won the Nobel Peace Prize — a mixed blessing for several reasons.

Domestically, the Nobel creates a problem because it focuses political attention on foreign policy, which is not Obama’s strength. To date, the U.S. president hasn’t secured any meaningful foreign policy accomplishments. More importantly, foreign policy isn’t the part of his presidency that Obama wants to prioritize. Of course, the prize won’t damage Obama’s approval ratings at home. His initial response to winning the Nobel was suitably modest and low key, and he’ll surely dominate airwaves with a rousing speech when he makes his formal acceptance. However broad the criticism, it’s hard to blame the president for the fact that the Norwegians apparently really like him. The challenge will arise in December when Obama flies to Oslo. He’ll have to talk up his foreign policy agenda, taking critical headline space away from healthcare reform and the U.S. economy.

Internationally, the prize is a bigger boon for the U.S. president. It burnishes Obama’s multilateralism, and shines a light on the enthusiasm about his presidency that’s been evinced in much of the world — particularly compared to his predecessor. Most of the constraints on Obama’s foreign policy are structural, given the international indifference to global leadership in general. But at the margins, playing to more ebullient crowds around the world should give Obama a bit more policy flexibility with international interlocutors.

To date, Obama’s foreign policy has been largely reactive. He hasn’t had the time or the inclination to lay out a sweeping worldview — a more ideological and strategic approach to foreign policy that would be clearly identified as his own. Instead, his administration’s foreign policy has been marked by professionalization, with most of the policy formation done at the bureaucratic level. The Nobel acceptance speech calls for more than that, and it’s conceivable that we’ll see the outlines of an Obama doctrine in it. It’s hard to know what gets top priority in such a speech, but clearly democratic values would play a greater role, which so far we’ve only seen in non-priority areas (such as in Obama’s trip to Ghana, which snubbed Nigeria). But if that’s true, it could create conflict. A U.S. grand strategy driven by values is less likely to prove as compatible with the “pragmatic growth” approach of Beijing or authoritarian Western allies in the Middle East.

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer

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