More on the Nobel

Charles Krauthammer and Bill Schneider offer contrasting takes. Krauthammer as always makes some powerful points. His catalogue of Obama’s failures to date is correct, isn’t it? In particular, Russia’s lack of response to the administration’s multi-track overtures has received too little attention.

And what’s come from Obama’s single most dramatic foreign policy stroke — the sudden abrogation of missile defense arrangements with Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia had virulently opposed? For the East Europeans it was a crushing blow, a gratuitous restoration of Russian influence over a region that thought it had regained independence under American protection.

But maybe not gratuitous. Surely we got something in return for selling out our friends. Some brilliant secret trade-off to get strong Russian support for stopping Iran from going nuclear before it’s too late? Just wait and see, said administration officials, who then gleefully played up an oblique statement by President Dmitry Medvedev a week later as vindication of the missile defense betrayal.

The Russian statement was so equivocal that such a claim seemed a ridiculous stretch at the time. Well, Clinton went to Moscow this week to nail down the deal. What did she get?

“Russia Not Budging On Iran Sanctions: Clinton Unable to Sway Counterpart.” Such was The Washington Post headline’s succinct summary of the debacle.

You can make a better case than Krauthammer allows for changing the missile-shield policy, but the fact that Russia hasn’t budged on Iran is indeed a notable failure.

Krauthammer goes much further, of course, and says that calling Obama’s Nobel merely “premature” is absurd. He thinks we can already write off the administration’s whole approach. There he loses me. Such certainty, less than a year in, seems as daft as saying it’s all going great.

Schneider seems to think the Nobel makes sense, but only if the rest of the world acts to make Obama’s approach viable. Well, yes, if only–but how likely is that? I found these sentences, which imply that the Nobel will itself strengthen Obama’s hand, hard to credit.

The peace prize should bolster Obama’s efforts to isolate Iran diplomatically and enforce tough sanctions if that nation refuses to comply with demands to end its nuclear weapons program… The prize should help Obama bring Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table…  The prize should encourage Obama to resist pressure from the U.S. military to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

In each case, the idea seems to be that the prize will elicit closer co-operation from other countries. But why should it do that, for heaven’s sake? By creating a sense of obligation? I don’t get it.

A closing thought on “what they meant by it”. The estimable Gene Robinson (here) and Juan Williams (on TV last weekend) both said the Nobel committee meant to praise the country as well as Obama, and that criticising the award was therefore anti-American (according to Robinson) or churlish (according to Williams).

I don’t think so. I go along with Robinson this far: I saw the committee’s otherwise inexplicable award mainly as an expression of thanks that the United States has finally managed to elect an internationally presentable president–that is, one who thinks like they do. As others have said, it is indeed an award to Obama for not being George W. Bush.

But bear this in mind. Bush was quintessentially American in the eyes of many Europeans–that is why they hated him. He won two presidential elections (and the second, after four years in office, was undisputed). What appalling judgment those people have. Praise be. This time, somehow, they rose above their backwardness and elected Obama. He is far more like us. Well done, America!

I’d call that a backhanded compliment.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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