Like many around the world I was surprised to hear the news that President Obama was named this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. But unlike the President’s unrelenting critics, I was pleasantly surprised.
But I do think it’s worth noting that many of the President’s supporters, indeed the President himself, joined Obama’s critics in saying that the honor was not deserved. In my view, they are all missing the point. What the Nobel committee’s decision recognizes is that the world changed on November 4, 2008. The rest of the world never thought we would elect a one term black Senator in his 40s. Given our history of racial and ethnic discrimination, they didn’t believe we had it in us.
Most Americans still don’t fully understand the level of disregard and disgust that the rest of the world viewed America prior to President Obama’s election. Almost overnight, in one November day, that hatred dissipated. In its place, the world began to take a second look at the U.S. and Americans.
In my view, when we elected President Obama we sent the signal to the rest of the world that America was pressing the pause button on the trajectory that President Bush had our country on. We said to the world we want a new direction. And most importantly, we confounded those who hate our country, who never thought we would elect the candidate who called for an end to the war in Iraq and an end to the prison in Guantanamo.
But now, with this Nobel prize, the awards committee is laying down a challenge to the President and to our country. Make good on your promises. Use your potential. Do the good things you have in you.
Some say this decision to give the President the Nobel Peace Prize was a mistake. Perhaps. But not if it spurs the President to use his extraordinary leadership and communications skills to lead the U.S. and the world to a more peaceful coexistence.