This Nobel Prize season must be an especially difficult one for President Barack Obama. The irony of having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 yet not being able to establish peace in his own country’s government is likely not lost on Mr Obama. The glowing press release from the Norwegian Nobel Committee that accompanied the award makes it clear that it was given solely on the basis of what Mr Obama hoped to accomplish as stated in his rhetorically flawless and shamelessly idealistic speeches. Four years on, the words–both Mr Obama’s and the Nobel Committee’s–seem rather hollow.
The Committee states that Obama “created a new climate in international politics” in which “dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.” Mr Obama’s overtures for peaceful resolution of complicated situations and his “outstretched hand” to Iran and other regions hostile to the US were surprisingly short-lived. As things stand currently, he will be more readily associated with the drone strikes and cyberattacks to which he quickly recurred after realizing that a dialogue can only happen if the other person shows up. Otherwise, it’s just a monologue, which can garner a Nobel Prize but not much else.
Obama has refocused his diplomatic strategy in the past few weeks in an attempt to put the recent Syria debacle behind him. He now aspires to a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict and a reestablishment of cordial relations with Iran. Is that all?! The chain of events in regard to Syria shows that peaceful resolution is a nice thought, but it is not a feasible option in a country that is already violently imploding. It’s something like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Or an outstretched hand…
The news that about eight Democrats were arrested for participating in a rally supporting a vote on a long-delayed immigration bill reminded me of another chapter of the Obama administration that I had forgotten: Obama had some pretty good ideas about how to provide the 11 million people living illegally in America with a path to citizenship. However, that got blocked and forgot about until some Democrats were practically forced to get arrested to remind us. In fact, Obama tried to do a lot of things that have been somewhat obscured in recent months due to debate over Syria, Snowden, and Shutdowns.
And that got me thinking: Obama had some nice things to say about gay marriage, too. Namely, that he supported it, which led Newsweek to dub him the “first gay President.” There are worse things to be. Now more and more states are legalizing same-sex marriage, though Republican governors are blocking it at every opportunity–most recently Chris Christie of New Jersey’s administration. But don’t worry about New Jersey–JWoww’s got it covered.
One must not forget the very piece of legislation that is now the root of the gridlock making it impossible to pass a budget or raise America’s debt ceiling: Obamacare. Republicans hate is so passionately that they are refusing to pass a budget that does not defund the cornerstone of Obama’s domestic policy. I am personally baffled by the controversy over the program: Why is an attempt to get all Americans health insurance so bitterly opposed? The NYT‘s Eduardo Porter has some theories about it here.
There is a common thread running through all of Obama’s frustrated efforts. In each instance, he has tried his best to fix a situation that he saw as unjust. His efforts were met with the fury and indignation of Republicans and Russian despots alike, possibly partly because his success would make them look bad. Many Obama supporters are frustrated with what they see as his failure to build consensus among politicians of all stripes. But one must remember that for someone who aimed so high (his goals included world peace, legal equality for gays, citizenship for those who came to America out of economic necessity, and health care for all Americans), failure was inevitable. Perhaps that’s not good enough for the Syrian people who are watching their country get decimated, nor is it comforting to furloughed federal employees or those who may not be able to cash their social security cheques when America hits its debt ceiling next week. But, for better or for worse, Obama is taking the long view; the idealist in me kind of hopes it pays off.