The Common Good

Is Obama's Peace Prize Premature?

Just peace theory proceeds from the premise that peace is a day by day effort. It is a process that requires vision, skill, and courage. The Nobel Committee awarded its 2009 Prize for Peace to President Barack Obama. He had been in office for only a few weeks when the nominations for the prize closed. He has been in office less than a year upon receiving this honor. The question: Is the prize premature?

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During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama took heat for his insistence that diplomacy meant talking to one's enemies without preconditions. He acknowledged that United States foreign policy had not been flawless. Our nation has made mistakes that have cause harm. While he said he would continue U.S. efforts against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, he also spoke of removing U.S. combat troops from Iraq. He spoke of international engagement and working with the world to solve problems.

A majority of the American people endorsed his ideas and made him the first African-American president of the United States. People across the globe paused and celebrated his inauguration, a singular and unique event. Since becoming president, he has continued to speak the truth about America's responsibility for suffering in the world. He has also articulated a just peace paradigm shift from "power over" to "power with" regarding international affairs. Respect for the importance of other people in the world is an important aspect of just peace theory.

President Obama has underlined the necessity of nations working together. It is an understanding that power is everywhere and that everyone has a role in making peace. In his first speech before the UN General Assembly, he said: "We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect, and our work must begin now."

Early in his administration, he reached out to the Muslim world. Like Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., he spoke of the world's interdependence, a network of mutuality. In his speech in Cairo, he said: "Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So, whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared."

With that same commitment to international cooperation, President Obama chaired the UN Security Council and put the force of the United States behind an effort toward an end of nuclear proliferation.

The prize recognizes President Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." The chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, said: "We hope this will enhance what he is trying to do."

The Nobel Committee gave the prize to President Obama in part because of his vision. It said: "The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." Wisdom teaches that where there is no vision the people perish. The Nobel Committee has recognized that President Obama is a man with a vision -- with the skill to articulate it and the courage to pursue it. It has given him a just peace prize.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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