US President Barack Obama will receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. Excellent! It is so nice to again receive happy telephone calls from abroad.
The prize is seemly to the person but also to the country and demonstrates a renewed popularity. Liking the US is cool again, particularly in Norway, the country from where the peace prize is awarded.
Just like receiving an honorary degree is not necessarily indicative of a good thesis, the prize is reflective of the desire to establish closer, mutual ties. It indicates how much the world is in need of hope and succour during times of uncertainty, frustration and economic hardship.
Typically, winners receive their Nobel prizes long after they have made their key contribution. Their best days often are behind them, and the prize provides the warm afterglow of reminiscences. Things are quite different for President Obama. He is in a position where his best days may be yet to come. On receipt of the prize, he does not have to inform his audience about what else he wishes he had done. Rather, he can address and change issues, policies and outcomes. In his acceptance speech, he can highlight his agenda for the future, and thus share the inspiration.
The prize offers additional gravitas to the future actions of Obama. It also shows that there is a global focus on the United States and its leadership. Just imagine, if there is a cabinet meeting with secretary Cheu, and a visit by former vice president Gore, there will be three Nobelists in the White House – what awesome firepower!
Of course, there are some who will claim that this honor has come too early. They will raise the question of what the president should do next.
They wonder which mountains are left to climb. To them, I say that there have been several instances of individuals receiving more than one Nobel prize.
The realistic next goal for President Obama is the Nobel prize in economics. Opportunities for distinction abound. Here are some areas for which President Obama could become prizeworthy: for work in coping with deficits and restoring a acceptable global balance in trade and investment; for showing how to deal with large increases of spending while keeping inflation low; for implementing policies that nurture and encourage specific industries while not distorting the economy; for managing the steady depreciation of a currency while maintaining the domestic standard of living; for reducing large and continuous trade deficits through the systematic development of an export-oriented economy; for convincing other nations to increase their domestic consumption, particularly through the acquisition of foreign products.
The challenges and the opportunities for key new contributions are many. Right now, the world has made a forward payment with great hope and enthusiasm. Perception can become reality when enough people believe in it. The mantle of global leadership has been reaffirmed for both the United States and President Obama. There has been a payoff from a new willingness on the part of the United States to learn and to listen to voices from around the world in order to integrate global perspectives into its thinking.
But in spite of the enthusiasm, the world needs to understand that the US leader is no longer able to bear policy gifts. US leadership will exact a price. Supporters, friends and allies will need to make economic, sovereignty and political sacrifices that not only reaffirm but also directly support such leadership. So it is time for countries to start to consider what policy concessions will be necessary to develop a new framework for US leadership and then to offer the investments necessary to sustain mutual progress.
In sum, the Nobel prize has given new impetus to the president and the country. Just like in the side mirror of a car, perhaps new directions are really closer than they appear. That makes it even more important for the president to be equitable and respectful of all players when raising new expectations. Right now, the prize certainly represents a good start – let’s make this a successful event.
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