Obama, Peace Prizes, and Reciprocity
Funny story: I was singing in the shower this morning, and Robert Gibbs called to tell me I’d won a Grammy. It was actually a little embarrassing, though, since all I’ve ever really done when it comes to music is tool around with a four track and some barely competent guitar playing. Still, I may have done more to deserve my Grammy than President Obama has done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.
This, of course, isn’t to slag on the president. Maybe at the end of four or eight years we’ll have a disarmed Iran and North Korea, a final status agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs, and free cone day every day at Ben & Jerrys worldwide. For now, though, all we’ve had is some pretty talk.
In fact, it seems pretty clear no one is more surprised by this prize than the president himself.
No one’s really taken the peace prize terribly seriously since it was awarded to noted terrorist murderer scumbag Yasser Arafat in 1994. Still, it’s an interesting move by a certain element of the international community, and it leads to the question: Why’d they do it?
Here’s the official explanation:
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.
Pretty weak brew. You’d have to think this would have been Bill Clinton’s year, with the Clinton Global Initiative and his North Korean babe run. So, what’s the real agenda?
One answer making the rounds is that this is yet another anti-Bush statement. A thumb in Dubya’s eye. A “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” from the folks who think Bush and Cheney should be on trial at The Hague.
It could be that.
The explanation that makes more sense to me is that it’s something closer to the old salesman’s free-pen trick on a grand scale. A free pen from, say, a pharmaceutical rep to a doctor seems harmless enough. But it triggers a strong reaction in people: reciprocity. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Social science experiments have consistently shown that giving people thing — even tiny little trinkets — can make them reciprocate in substantial ways. There’s a reason this free-pen trick exists, and that’s because it works.
President Obama has just received the biggest free pen in the world. I’m not sure what happens to the substantial cash attached to the award, but the prestige is a big free pen in itself. And the intent seems clear enough to me. We, the international community, have bestowed our highest honor upon you. Now, you feel at least a little more inclined to lean in our direction on: global warming, Israel-Palestine, etc.
Will it work? This is too aberrant a situation to pretend that social science gives us any answers. Perhaps it was a mistake on the part of the Nobel committee: Now what high honor does President Obama have to chase? It certainly doesn’t strengthen the president’s hand domestically. In fact, it’s a bit embarrassing here at home.
Still, if you had to guess what the Nobel committee was up to, I’d say reciprocity is as good a guess as any.