WASHINGTON — Last November, Americans voted overwhelmingly for change. We elected a man who represented that change, both in his personal story and his political outlook. Less than one year since that historic election, the man that Americans sent to the White House has dramatically improved how our country is viewed overseas while setting in motion a significant number of events that are advancing both our national security and the cause of peace.
For these efforts, he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.
In particular, it is remarkable how President Obama has shifted the way that the United States conducts its foreign policy:
• He has eliminated the hostile language of the previous Bush administration, instead showing respect to others.
• He has demonstrated a deliberative management style geared toward making decisions that are well informed.
• He has sought to root American foreign policy in international legitimacy, thus strengthening our ability to advance our interests through collective action.
Each of these moves has strengthened our country’s standing and ability to promote peace, yet unfortunately, the Obama critics are out in full force, unable to accept these changes.
For example, Jay Bushinsky recently wrote on these pages that the Obama Middle East peace policy would not work (echoing similar recent statements made by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, no paragon of peace himself), because, as he argued, Hamas might win a Palestinian election and take over the West Bank. Yet instead of trying to figure out how to avoid this potential calamity, he only argued that Obama would fail.
While it is easy to predict failure, it is harder to actually implement good ideas that will help lead to a different outcome.
Right now, we should be calling for a Palestinian unity government that would both rein in Hamas and ensure that the Palestinians are negotiating with one voice. We should also be calling for a lifting of the siege of the Gaza Strip and the removal of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank; this would allow for the Palestinian economy to grow, leading to an improvement in Palestinians’ daily lives and increased grassroots support for peace. And we should also be calling for a halt to settlement construction in order to strengthen President Abbas and the Palestinian moderates by showing that they can get real results through diplomacy, not violence.
These are the types of policy innovations that President Obama has been pursuing and for which he earned the Nobel Prize. Unlike his critics, who create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, we should advocate for these ideas in the pursuit of peace.
President Obama also won the Peace Prize because he stands in stark contrast to the previous administration and its failed national security policies, which left us in dire straits in the Middle East.
Specifically, Iraq has cost more than $1 trillion, left tens of thousands American soldiers dead or wounded, and killed nearly 100,000 Iraqis while displacing millions more. And Saddam Hussein didn’t even have weapons of mass destruction.
During the previous administration, we also alienated potential allies around the world in the fight against terrorism with macho talk about being “with us or against us.” And while we invaded Afghanistan to go after al-Qaida, we never caught Osama bin-Laden largely because the resources that should have been used to find him and destroy his network were diverted to Iraq.
It is also worth emphasizing that on Iran, President Obama has shown that he, unlike President Bush, knows how to strategically employ diplomacy for real effect. Unlike Bush, who spent years verbally assaulting Iran, only to allow the resumption of its nuclear weapons program on his watch, Obama has ramped up scrutiny on the Iranians by consistently calling for diplomacy and international pressure. Obama is now pushing Iran into a diplomatic box, as the Russians and Chinese are finally making noises of support for American efforts to get the Iranians to come clean. When Bush was in office, they opposed such efforts. Obama’s welcome change in policy deserves credit for creating a situation where the Iranians may just realize that their nuclear games are coming to an end.
Finally, after less than a year in office, President Obama has restored our country’s international legitimacy by ending the use of torture, pledging to close Guantanamo Bay, and securing a commitment from the international community to seek a nuclear free world.
One could say that these were easy choices, bound to be popular overseas. But they weren’t. They have been challenging to implement and are just now beginning to bear fruit. For these reasons, and because of the president’s change in direction for our country’s foreign policy, he deserves both our praise and the Nobel Peace Prize.
(Joel Rubin, deputy director and chief operating officer of the National Security Network in Washington, D.C., and a Pittsburgh native, can be reached at email@example.com. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the National Security Network.)