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The Nobel Message to the U.S.: “America, We Need You”

Posted by Peter M. Shane on October 9, 2009

It’s a safe bet that President Obama’s first words this morning were something akin to, “I won what??”  This is, after all, the man who conceded that Arizona State had a point in thinking an honorary degree might be premature.  President Obama – whom I admire deeply – has been in office under 10 months, and the menu of world conflicts seems pretty much as long as last January.  

In short, it also seems a safe bet that, in choosing President Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize, the Committee wanted to send a larger message.

 As I read it, that message is, “America, we need you.”

 The Birthers and Teabaggers will likely say that the Nobel Prize is testament to Obama’s overarching allegiance to European, rather than American values.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

 President Obama has so captured the world’s imagination because he so strikingly embodies an America that the world yearns for – an energetic, diverse, inclusive America that is determined to lead the world, but with the world’s interests in mind.

 As the Nobel Committee said, President Obama’s “diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” 

 This statement takes as a given the fact that the President of the United States is “to lead the world.”  It just says how the world hopes he or she will do so.

 This international yearning for enlightened American leadership should come as no surprise.

 There will not be a meaningful international anti-nuclear proliferation regime without American leadership.

 There will not be a rapprochement between the West and Islam without American leadership.

 There will not be lasting peace in the Middle East without American leadership.

 There will not be measurable progress against global warming without American leadership,

 There will not be worldwide progress in the protection and expansion of human rights – and perhaps, most especially, women’s rights – without American leadership.

 These are things for which people around the world yearn.  They do not want America to shed its position of leadership; they want America to abandon unilateralism – the idea that America can lead with indifference to the “values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” 

 As an American, I have to say I am grateful and slightly amazed that the eight Bush-Cheney years did not utterly kill the American brand abroad.  An agonizing “what if?” question will always be, “What if, on September 12, 2001, America had embraced a less unilateral vision of world leadership?”  How much closer would we be to the imperative international objectives we now seek?

 Because time only moves in one direction, however, Americans should be delighted by the award today bestowed upon our President.  The award is a bet not just on Obama’s future, but on ours.  It is a bet that we can be the America that the world sees in Barack Obama.

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