A Nobel Prize Only Andrew Sullivan Could Love

Today’s announcement that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – having been nominated a grand total of 12 days into his presidency – officially places Obama and the Nobel Committee alike beyond parody. There’s no stereotype of liberals they won’t embody. Could you possibly come up with a storyline that more perfectly captures the whole idea of Obama – all talk and promises and of course self-congratulation, and nothing to show for it? At least they haven’t (yet) renamed the prize after him, but I assume that future winners will be given a framed commemorative picture on black velvet of a shirtless Obama astride a unicorn. This is the most self-evidently ridiculous award since Rafael Palmeiro winning Gold Glove for season when he played only 28 games in the field. The ESPYs are now a more prestigious award than the Nobel Peace Prize.

I can’t top Benjamin Kerstein’s thoroughgoing vivisection of what this all says about Obama, but let me add a few thoughts of my own. And brace yourself as well for a look at Andrew Sullivan’s bizarre attempt to defend the indefensible.

First, the contrast to last week’s Olympic snub is telling. The Olympics would be something of concrete value to the country – small, localized, and dubious value, but at least Obama could have claimed to have brought home the bacon for someone other than himself. That, he couldn’t do. But a cash prize payable personally to Obama, and a bunch of gassy generalities about “hope”? Sure thing! Even the international organizations seem to have figured out what Obama deserves and how to placate him when he gets nothing for his country.

Second, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office, like promising to roll back the seas, pledging a net reduction in federal spending, promising no tax hikes for 95% of the American public, and circulating those infamous graphs showing the unemployment rate if the stimulus package was passed (hint: it’s much higher now than Obama’s people said it would be without the stimulus) sets an awfully high bar that Obama is bound to regret setting, for he will inevitably and certainly fall short of it.

Third, even on the Left’s own terms, it’s hard to see what exactly Obama has produced. The war in Iraq has been winding down since before he was elected, but it’s not over. The war in Afghanistan has gotten worse, and the U.S. presence there has escalated. Obama might decide to turn tail anyday now – earlier this week he gave a speech on terrorism that referenced Al Qaeda and multiple locations around the world but pointedly omitted mention of the Taliban or Afghanistan – but as of today, the anti-war movement has zilch to show there either. He hasn’t brought an end to rendition, electronic surveillance or indefinite detention, or closed Guantanamo – simply making our policies in those areas more opaque and less effective doesn’t count. He hasn’t produced anything concrete on “climate change.” The only concessions he’s won have been from the United States, such as dropping missile defense in Eastern Europe in exchange for an unspecified “hey buddy, I owe you one” from Vladimir Putin. Even the statements of the Nobel Committee were basically an affirmation that he was being given it as a form of social promotion: we hope if we give you the prize, it’ll encourage you to get more done.

Unsurprisingly, the most sycophantic reaction comes from Andrew Sullivan. Even Sullivan has to admit the award is “premature,” but then goes on to gush that “this is thoroughly deserved” and

Americans … haven’t fully absorbed the turn-around in the world’s view of America that Obama and the American people have accomplished.

As usual with such statements, Sullivan bypasses evidence and declines to specify who he means by “the world” – Putin? Hugo Chavez? Al Qaeda? The man on the street in Beijing, who has no political voice? – or what sort of results one would expect to see, if in fact “the world” was more favorably disposed towards the United States. Sullivan then ejaculates:

I hope more see both the peaceful intentions and the steely resolve of this man to persevere.

I’m at a loss to think of even a fictional, hypothetical example of Obama displaying “steely resolve,” but whatever gets you through the night, I guess.

This president has done a huge amount to bring race relations in this country to a different place…[the “far right”] know he threatens their politics of division and rule.

Leaving aside what any of that has to do with world peace (Bishop Tutu, he’s not), what place would that be? Henry Louis Gates certainly didn’t seem to think so. I doubt very much that we’re going to see anybody arguing from the Left that any issue of race relations has improved sufficiently under Obama so as to justify an end to race-conscious government policies or policies premised upon arguments about racial inequality. I can predict with 100% confidence that the Left will continue to spend far more time talking about race throughout Obama’s presidency than the Right. All that has changed is the benefit to Obama himself of Obama getting elected.

He has also directly addressed the Muslim world, telling some hard truths, and played a small role in evoking a similar movement of hope and change in Iran, and finally told the Israelis to stop cutting their nose off to spite their face.

One could spend weeks unpacking the untruths in this single sentence, a masterpiece of dishonesty and self-deception for which I can only tip my cap to Sullivan. The Cairo speech was, as I have previously discussed, full of at best half-truths and appalling moral equivalencies, Obama’s response on Iran was far later and more muted than similar statements on Iranian liberty by his predecessor (and the Iran crisis undercut the whole point of his Cairo speech)…but yes, I’ll give him “credit” for disagreeing with the Israeli people and their elected leaders as to matters of Israeli national security.

[W]e were facing a spiral of conflict that, unchecked, could have taken the world to the abyss. I see this prize as an endorsement of his extraordinary reorientation of world politics, and as an encouragement to see it through….[T]his is an attempt to tell us: look up for a moment, see how far we’ve come in pivoting away from global conflict, and give this man a break for his efforts and the massive burden he now bears.

And, in the darkness that still threatens, know hope.

This is hyperbole not on stilts but aloft in a zeppelin, and one can only extend best wishes that Sullivan survives the altitude. And as usual with Obama, it measures his accomplishments entirely by positing an unknowable “but for” world of unimaginable horror, then simply assuming that everything that didn’t happen is a positive accomplishment. He’s being lauded here for peace “created or saved,” the alternative to which is unprovable – the very definition of a faith-based standard of accomplishment. And even on these grounds, Sullivan can’t begin to specify what concrete thing Obama has done or will do, since that would open him to having to move his goalposts when reality intrudes in his castles in the air.

Today, we saw the real fruition of Barack Obama’s international ambitions. He delivered the one thing he’s really good at: accolades and money for Barack Obama.