Political Pundits Give Their Take on Obama’s Nobel Prize

Is giving hope and capturing a world audience enough?

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele certainly questioned the decision. “The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?’ It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working toward peace and human rights,” Steele said in a statement. “One thing is certain—President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.”

Since taking office, Obama’s most notable achievements on the international front largely have been centered on changing the tone of US foreign policy. He has, for example, extended America’s hand to countries that former President George W. Bush dismissed as being part of an “axis of evil,” reached out to Muslim nations, and is trying to work with Russia to reduce its and America’s arsenals of nuclear weapons.

“There certainly has been a dramatic change in tone, but I don’t think that’s worthy of a Nobel,” said Michael Mezey, a DePaul University political scientist. “Obama won the award for not being George W. Bush, whose tone was us against them, you’re with us or against us. He said we’re not going to take that tone anymore; we will talk to enemies as well as friends, and he’s taking some risks in that respect.”

This award comes as Obama is engaged in making some monumental decisions, such as whether to increase the troop level in Afghanistan for a war that has lasted eight years—so far.

“He’s struggling with difficult and complex issues and I think the award will remind him that the entire world is looking to America for responsible leadership that will require taking some bold steps. That may mean challenging the military industrial complex and powerful right-wing interests here at home in pursuing nonmilitary solutions to challenges [in the Middle East],” said Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco. Zunes does not, however, believe the prize will have any impact or influence on Obama’s foreign policy agenda. “There are some hard choices and a lot of it will come down to defining what our goals are.”

Calvin Mackenzie, a government professor at Colby College, agrees. “The political and policy factors are much more powerful impacts than being a Nobel laureate. But it may impact the way people in other countries view him. It gives Obama a little more gravitas than he would have as a relatively young, first-year president, which is beneficial to him and the nation,” said Mackenzie.

Obama’s speeches before the UN, in Cairo, and during the campaign in Berlin, Mackenzie adds, “resonated powerfully with foreign audiences and contributed to the view of him as a person breaking new paths for American foreign policy. When others see him in contrast with Bush, whom they detested, it really does look like change is taking place in the United States.”

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