Friday, October 09, 2009

Mr. President, the Ball Is In Your Court

The surprising announcement that President Obama has been named recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize reminds me that the president is a screen upon whom we project our hopes and fears. Since at least the 1930s, as the United States emerged as a world power and the president as a world leader, this has been the case for better and for worse.
This announcement, not yet a full year since Obama's historic election last November and barely nine months since that frigid January Tuesday when two million people gathered on the National Mall to witness his inauguration, comes at a crucial moment for the president. Nine months into his presidency marks the halfway point in his campaign promise to remove combat troops from Iraq within 18 months. He had already stretched that early pledge to 22 months by the time he took office.
Was the Nobel committee trying to turn up some heat under the president by reminding him of this pledge? Were they throwing down a gauntlet as he prepares to make a decision on troop levels and strategies in Afghanistan? Or were they, as the citation put it simply honoring "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples"?
Whatever the committee's motivations or reasoning, one thing is clear: the ball is in the president's court now. Will he live up to this honor by creatively seeking peace in Iraq, the Middle East and Afghanistan, or will his imagination fail at this critical hour? Will he look through the Manichean lens that has blinkered his predecessors -- Democrats and Republicans -- throughout America's imperial age, or will he find a new perspective through which to forge an imperfect peace in the graveyard of empires without costing thousands of additional lives?
The Nobel committee, like American voters this time last year, chose hope.
Hope is all well and good. Without it life is not worth the effort. But in the present season it is time for the president to begin living into the hope that he has inspired. This honor underscores the way forward: it is the way of peace. Or, as my Quaker friends would say, "there is no way to peace; peace is the way."

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