Going by Abraham Maslow’s theory of hierarchical needs, Barack Obama is a fulfilled man at peace with his ambitions. He should have no motivations to make the world a better place. He is wealthier by 1.4 million dollars, his children will be well taken care of and the world will not end. Even if it does, to possibly prevent which presidents are elected, presidents being not supermen or gods, he is done before he is 50. Even John Kennedy did not achieve that. He finds himself up there with Teddy Roosevelt both in age and achievement, except for Rushmore and the National Mall in Washington.
Rushmore, an American landmark where the nation carves its leaders in stone for posterity and the National Mall which immortalizes its greatest in monuments sets a much higher bar. There are many more Nobels since 1901 than there are faces on Rushmore or monuments on the Mall. No medals or monies are given out in recognition of American posterity. They stand for their own sake. Self-justified and self-evident, having given all and asking for nothing in return.
The country must be proud that its President has been awarded an international honor for what he has already done in the short time he has been in office. He did indeed commit the country to making the world a safer place. But is this commitment itself sufficient to change the world? Does the President have a coherent strategy and specific policies in place to implement that strategy, both within the country and without, to advance the American cause enshrined in its Declaration of Independence or in George Washington’s Farewell Address or in the Gettysburg Address, all three of which are set in stone either literally or metaphorically on the National Mall?
The “Yes, We Can” president, having made similar commitments in domestic policy speeches is making the country nervous with his policies. If those speeches and what he has done thus far with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) were to be rewarded with awards for changing the political climate in the country, he should be given the American equivalent of a Nobel if we have one. There is good reason why we don’t. America, a utilitarian nation, rewards real outcomes, similar to the science Nobels, not expectations of outcomes promised by its politicians.
Can the President make the world a more stable and peaceful place? We know all too well in Palestine that peace cannot be purchased with Nobels. When Mikhail Gorbachev unilaterally capitulated in the Cold War, the outcomes were real. Prague is still only a speech waiting to be tested by Iran.
This context makes this prize interesting to say the least. When he accepts his medal in December this president is constrained to signaling one of three things: (a) that he has a coherent strategy for reshaping the world order, with the prestige of a sitting American president, and thereby that of the country he represents, at stake; or (b) that he wants to stay with the status quo, as his current policies indicate his predilection for doing including in foreign policy, and simply thank the Nobel Committee for recognizing him; or (c) implicitly pass on American leadership to the European Union as some Democrats like and want to do given their preference to go the way of Western Europe on everything from health care to energy and financial regulations.
The first option could help him join the American pantheon. The second option will be more of the same, he being who he is, at least going by what he has done thus far: a conventional politician capable of rousing rhetoric with an implicit preference for changing nothing. The third option could mean a very uncertain world because this is the 21st century and the major emerging countries are not ready to once again accept a quasi-European state’s aspirations for global leadership after extricating themselves from its grasp in the last century in a world of ever dwindling resources, with the dollar buying less and less gold.
The dialog of the peoples of the world could end up being no different from a Washington cocktail party.