Here’s what Dick Cheney’s daughter, Liz, believes: A committee of five Norwegians awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama because he represents a weaker, more pliant America. An America that can no longer “go it alone” when necessary. Dear old dad, of course, wholeheartedly agrees with her.
Are Cheney & Co are onto something? Maybe, but in a perverse way. With regards to power, perhaps we’ve entered a multi-polar world, and there’s no going back? Maybe the difference between Barack Obama and the Cheneys is that the president understands this paradigm shift, and they don’t.
For instance, just saying, over and over, that the USA has the “world’s greatest health care system,” doesn’t make it so. Proclaiming we’re THE GREATEST! in just about every category is surely off the mark as well. Baseball fans can root like crazy for their home team, even when it’s getting clobbered in the World Series. Their devotion is admirable. But when the series ends, and their team is bested four game to zip, it doesn’t mean that the better team lost.
Long gone are the heady days since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Evil Empire, when the United States could claim its trophy as the world’s sole Superpower. Now we share the stage with a United Europe (more or less) and a resurgent Russia. China is expanding and transforming its economy so rapidly that they are likely to overtake us in GDP within the next ten to twenty years. Even India and Brazil are nipping at our heels!
During the Bush-Cheney Era, we clung tightly to the notion that the world couldn’t survive without our "tough-love" leadership. The result? We got bogged down in two unfinished wars, offering murky exits at best. We failed to curtail Iran’s and North Korea’s maniacal pursuit of atomic weapons. And we nearly drove our economy off a cliff, sending the world into the deepest recession in 70 years. (Though, to be fair, the Clinton-Greenspan Era deserves an equal share of the blame here).
America still tries to rally the world round its leadership, but the calls ring a bit hollow now. And while the Norwegians, the rest of Europe, and nearly every country save Israel adores Barack Obama, will they follow his lead? I have my doubts. As Nicolas Sarkozy or Angela Merkel might describe American primacy: “That's SOOOO Twentieth Century!” And now it looks as though China is set to leap ahead of the USA in green technologies. As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman put it: If you like importing oil from the Middle East, you’ll LOVE importing solar energy from China!
So, what’s the USA exporting to the world these days? Offhand, I can only think of three things: entertainment; soldiers; and obesity.
Take entertainment. From "Where the Wild Things Are" to Lady Gaga, America continues its long reign as Numero Uno in the entertainment world. That's not going to change anytime soon. If you can make it big here, you WILL make it big everywhere!
Meanwhile, our armed forces are second to none. We are the Usain Bolt of armies, and the Michael Phelps of navies. If other nations were willing to pay us what we’re worth, we could, literally, fight all their wars for them.
...Makes you wonder: Rather than have our Marines teach Afghan farmers how to plant peppers instead of poppies, why not have the Afghan government pay for our fighting force with the proceeds from their opium trade? We could battle the Taliban for market share. (Hey, just kidding!)
As for obesity, well, thanks to the miracle of high-fructose corn syrup, we are recreating the world in our own bloated image. (Our current, svelte president notwithstanding).
So what’s Barack Obama to do now that he’s a Nobel laureate? The Norwegian selection committee has a history of making odd choices when it comes to the peace prize. And leaders currently holding office when awarded the honor -- be it Woodrow Wilson, Anwar Sadat, Mikhail Gorbachev or Yasser Arafat -- haven’t fared well, at home, in the aftermath.
President Wilson barnstormed the country to sell his League of Nations after World War I. The exhaustion from his travels may have helped trigger the massive stroke that confined him to bed for the rest of his presidency. His get-well card from the United States Senate? After 55 days of debate, the Senate rejected the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles, 53-38.
Yasser Arafat, who shared the 1994 prize with Israeli leaders Yatzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, was hardly a Prince of Peace. Six years later, Arafat rejected Israeli prime minster Ehud Barak's gutsy blueprint for a "two-state solution," and responded to Ariel Sharon's ill-timed and provocative visit to the Temple Mount by unleashing the bloody, second intifada.
Mikhail Gorbachev, who deserved even more credit for defanging the Soviet Union than Ronald Reagan, received the 1990 prize for his policy of "glasnost and perestroika." His Nobel medal got a loud Bronx cheer from the folks back home, where he had something like an 8% approval rating. A year later, Gorby found himself under house arrest in his Crimean dacha. He was briefly returned to the Kremlin, along with his family and his beloved cat, but the Gorbachev Era was over.
Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger shared the 1973 peace prize with his Vietnamese adversary, Le Duc Tho, but we all know how that turned out. And Anwar Sadat, who bravely saw the wisdom of NOT fighting Israel, may well have paid for his half of the 1978 Nobel prize with his life!
So, best of luck, President Obama, when you travel to Oslo in December to accept your award. You'll be the picture of grace and humility, I'm certain. You'll deliver an elegant speech for the ages. But don't forget to mention Afghanistan!
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