Friday, October 09, 2009

Rewarding the American State Apparatus for Good Behavior: Understanding and the Awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama

This blog site joins the great chorus of people and institutions in raising a loud hosanna to the genius of the global community now manifested in the form of the recent decision of the Nobel organization to award its prize for peace to the American President, Barack Obama. "The surprise choice of President Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize drew praise from much of the world Friday even as many pointed out the youthful leader has not yet accomplished much on the world stage." Gregory Katz, Obama's Nobel Peace Prize triumph hailed by many, Associated Press, October 9, 2009.

I leave it to others to analyze the merits of that particular choice. I note only that it appears that the actions of George W. Bush during his Presidency was as much responsible for the award as the faith-in-a-future-hoped-for popular speeches whose perceived ideals so endeared Mr. Obama to the Nobel Committee.
Massimo Teodori, one of Italy's leading experts of U.S. history, said the Nobel decision is a clear rejection of the "unilateral, antagonistic politics" of Obama's predecessor, George Bush."The prize is well deserved after the Bush years, which had antagonized the rest of the world," Teodori said. "President Obama's policy of extending his hand has reconciled the United States with the international community." . . . . In Pakistan's central city of Multan, radical Islamic leader Hanif Jalandhri, said he was neither happy nor surprised by Obama's award. "But I do hope that Obama will make efforts to work for peace, and he will try to scrap the policies of Bush who put the world peace in danger," said Jalandhri, secretary general of a group that oversees 12,500 seminaries. Id.
The Nobel Committee based its award, effectively on its revulsion with American policy from 2001 to the defeat of the Republican party administration in 2008. Sadly, Mr. Bush will be unable to take the credit he is due for his important role in making this award to Mr. Obama possible. "Sem citar seu antecessor George W. Bush, o comitê salientou as diferenças no envolvimento dos EUA com o resto do mundo desde a mudança de governo em Washington, em janeiro. "A diplomacia multilateral recobrou uma posição central, com ênfase no papel que as Nações Unidas e outras instituições internacionais podem desempenhar." Comitê nega que Obama tenha recebido o Prêmio Nobel da Paz 'cedo demais', O Globo, Oct. 9, 2009 ("Without citing his predecessor George W. Bush, the committee stressed the differences in U.S. involvement with the rest of the world since the change of government in Washington in January. "Multilateral diplomacy regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play."")

Yet the spirit of Mr. Bush is everywhere. The Novel Organization's web site declares the basis of the award to Mr. Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Nobel Organization, Nobel Peace Prize 2009, October 2009. Clearly, the habits and practices of the American presidency during the first eight years of this century were abhorrent in some quarters. Its abandonment requires recognition--and nurturing. It seems, then, that even the United States can be subject to the disciplinary punishment and reward system of the world community. That community has made its desires well known--a distaste for blatantly imperial behavior for the forms of hegemony that are sugar coated in smooth language.

Perhaps the greatest impact of the award has been the light it shines on the passionate rush, at least at the highest levels of elite government, civil society and media elite elements, to embrace the globalist rhetoric of Mr. Obama. Indeed, it is clear that the award was made to add weight and legitimacy to the political and social vision that Mr.Obama has articulated as for the success of any efforts thus far attained. It is that vision that the Novel Organization and its supporters wishes to see realized--though the details of that implementation are of little moment--and a global gesture adding to the legitimacy, perhap even the inevitablity fo that vision, was deemed important. "'Very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future,' the committee said in a citation." Wojciech Moskwa and Matt Spetalnick, Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize to mixed reviews, Reuters, Oct. 9, 2009. Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee
rejected the notion that Obama had been recognized prematurely for his efforts and said the committee wanted to promote the president just it had Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 in his efforts to open up the Soviet Union.
"His 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," it said.
Jagland said he hoped the prize would help Obama resolve the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, last year's laureate, said it was clear the Nobel committee wanted to encourage Obama on the issues he has been discussing on the world stage.
"I see this as an important encouragement," Ahtisaari said.
The committee wanted to be "far more daring" than in recent times and make an impact on global politics, said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the International Peace Research Institute. Obama awarded 2009 Nobel Peace Prize,, Oct. 9, 2009.
"Egeland said he believes it was the president's U.N. Security Council resolution to rid the world of nuclear weapons that resulted in the award going to Mr. Obama. He also said the award may strengthen Mr. Obama's hand in winning international cooperation on key initiatives including climate change, but cautions Afghanistan is a "special case" where he does not expect other nations to increase support for the United States' military effort there." World Reacts to Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, CBS News, Oct. 9, 2009.

President Obama's carefully cultivated rhetorical architecture has appeared to draw a sharp contrast between his vision of the United States engaged within the world community and that of his predecessor.
Pero quizá es precisamente Bush quien ha hecho tan "esperanzador" a Obama a ojos del comité de los premios Nobel. Tras ocho años de polémica gestión en Washington, la llegada de un nuevo presidente dotado de una poderosa oratoria ha supuesto un soplo de aire fresco en la diplomacia internacional. Así lo creen quienes le entregarán el galardón el próximo 10 de diciembre, convencidos de que "muy pocas veces una persona había captado hasta ese punto la atención del mundo y le había dado a la gente esperanza para un futuro mejor". appearance of unilateralism. Obama, Nobel de la paz, El Mundo (España), Oct. 9, 2009. ("But maybe it was Bush himself who has made Obama so much the object of hope in the eyes of Nobel awards committee. After eight years of controversial tenure in Washington, the arrival of a new president gifted with a powerful oratory has brought a breath of fresh air in international diplomacy. That is what those who will deliver the award on December 10 believe, "very rarely has a person captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."" Id.)
Yet, a careful examination of that rhetoric might reveal a complexity, about both person and ideology, that ought to be examined closely by those eager to embrace what they believe it means. I am not suggesting a critique of the award--far from it. I am merely suggesting that the vision awarded, understood on its own terms, is substantially more complex than its awarded perception. See, Larry Catá Backer, Mr. Obama Speaks in Egypt: "Islam is a Part of America"--The Ummah Wahida, and the State in Two Distinct World Orders, Law at thew End of the Day, June 5, 2009. Larry Catá Backer, Mr. Obama on Guantanamo: Of Power and Politics in Time of CrisisLaw at the End of the Day, May 21, 2009.

Consider Mr. Obama's acceptance remarks issued several hours after official receipt of the announcement was conveyed and Mr. Obama and his advisers had the chance to produce a response.
11:16 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning. After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, "Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo's birthday!" And then Sasha added, "Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up." So it's good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build -- a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

These challenges can't be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that's why my administration has worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek. We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people. And that's why we've begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions.

We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever damage the world that we pass on to our children -- sowing conflict and famine; destroying coastlines and emptying cities. And that's why all nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the way that we use energy.

We can't allow the differences between peoples to define the way that we see one another, and that's why we must pursue a new beginning among people of different faiths and races and religions; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.

And we must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years, and that effort must include an unwavering commitment that finally realizes that the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own.

We can't accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity and dignity that all people yearn for -- the ability to get an education and make a decent living; the security that you won't have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.

And even as we strive to seek a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully and prosperity is widely shared, we have to confront the world as we know it today. I am the Commander-in-Chief of a country that's responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies. I'm also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for work. These are concerns that I confront every day on behalf of the American people.
Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone. This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration -- it's about the courageous efforts of people around the world.

And that's why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity -- for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace.

That has always been the cause of America. That's why the world has always looked to America. And that's why I believe America will continue to lead.
Thank you very much.
The Remarks contain all that one would expect on this sort of occasion--a combination of humility, gratitude and deferential contextualization of the award, which by its exaggeration highlights the great status and power of the recipient. It also embodies another expected construction of these sorts of messages--the division of the person of the recipient into two--the individual and the proxy for the sovereign masses and state apparatus that he incarnates. The remarks open with the evocation of the loving father--the "everyman" fortuitously placed in an extraordinary position. This is followed by the mandatory trope of humility but then immediately followed by the first hint at bifurcation of the body of Mr. Obama: as the loving "everyman" he may be unworthy, but as the incarnation of the all of the people on earth, lead by the American people, whose peoplehood he incarnates in his own body, the award merely affirms the rectitude of that position, power, and mission. That bifurcation is carried through in the next two paragraphs, of the remarks. In Paragraph threee, Mr. Obama is "everyman" again, whose is humbly compared to those who received the award before him. But that comparison, the next paragraph makes clear, is inapposite. For the award is not being given to "everyman" but to that person is embodies a world yet to be built, a set of aspirations yet to be attained, a cluster of causes for which a symbol and focus is required, and a "call to action." Mr. Obama accepts the award as the physical locus of all nations in their confrontation with the common challenges of this century. That dualism then plays out in the remaining parts of the Remarks. On the one hand, Mr. Obama acknowledges that the challenges he alludes to cannot be met by a single nation (or man). Yet at the same time, the challenges must be recognized, managed and met through a leadership that embodies the aspirations of the world--his own, as representative of the one nation that represents the world. The award, Mr. Obama now obliquely alludes, suggests the location of that leadership in the United States which he embodies. And so, as is his duty, Mr. Obama begins listing a set of behaviors that he believes intolerable--nuclear arms, climate change, asocial and economic rights, nd power hierarchies (and the violence that follows) based on differences in religion, ethnicity and the like, with a special nod to international relation's favorite managerial pastime, the Israel-Arab (now Palestinian) dispute. Those "intolerances" ultimately come back to rest on his (representative) shoulders--not as "everyman" but as a construct inhabiting an individual's body. He is the Commander in Chief presiding over multiple wars, and an economic crisis that he confronts in the service of the American people. Together, these great challenges are said to likely survive Mr. Obama's time in office and represents--he represents--the courageous efforts of people around the world. The Nobel Ward, therefor, is accepted in a representative capacity--Mr. Obama as the world, as its incarnation, hope and representative, but ultimately Mr. Obama as America--itself, as he has alluded to in other speeches, the only true representative of the global community and its aspirations. And thus the award recognizes not merely the man--but the incarnation of the state in the man, and the world in the state. The award is meant to represent a call to action for thew world, which all must work toward--under the leadership of the United States, which itself is embodied in the person of Mr. Obama. "That has always been the cause of America. That's why the world has always looked to America. And that's why I believe America will continue to lead." Remarks, supra. And thus the nature of the new consensus unilateralism endorsed by the Nobel.

As he has done in his speeches on Guantanamo and in Egypt, "In the end, Mr. Obama has suggested much that well worn but now wrapped in a faith in himself, and in the United States as a mirror of the world. He has done that effectively. But he has done little else." Larry Catá Backer, Mr. Obama Speaks in Egypt, supra. Yet it sounds so much different when delivered by its author and is heard more differently still by those eager to hear in those words something that soothes. Thus awarded and received, the Nobel Peace Prize serves as a potent symbol, and reminder, of the truth in rhetoric, and the power in gesture.
One does not only wish to be understood when one writes; one wishes just as surely not to be understood. It is not by any means necessarily an objection to a book when anybody finds it impossible to understand: perhaps that was part of the author's intention--he did not want to be understood by just "anybody." Every more noble spirit and taste selects its audience when it wishes to communicate itself; and choosing them, it at the same time erects barriers against "the others." Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science Parag. 381, p. 343 (Walter Kaufmann, trans, & ed., New York: Vintage Books, 1974).
So it may be here in this award to this man at this time. Only time will reveal the "truths that are singularly shy and ticklish, and cannot be caught except suddenly--the must be surprised or left alone." Id., 345. The world acknowledges, now, this man of peace.

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