Late last Dectember, Steve Clemons served up the silliest piece of writing I saw in all of 2008 when he suggested that Caroline Kennedy be named ambassador to Great Britain. Steve argued that Ms. Kennedy had solid credentials to be ambassador to a key ally (as Britain was then thought to be) because she has been “playing the role of Ambassador on behalf of her father’s memory and her clan for a long time.” I responded that we should keep Kennedy in that role, send Ernie “Mr. Cub” Banks to the Court of St. James, and make Clemons the “Ambassador on behalf of” metaphors, puns, and non-sequiturs.
President Obama declined to make the Hall of Fame infielder his ambassador to Great Britain, but my other two recommendations are faring well. Ms. Kennedy continues to represent her father’s memory and nothing more while Steve Clemons is thriving as the ambassador to metaphors, puns, and non-sequiturs.
In that capacity, he has now provided the front-runner for silliest piece of writing in 2009 — his defense of President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, which Paul Rahe discusses below. Where others on the left recognize Obama’s award for the bad joke it is, Steve argues that Obama deserves the award for “help[ing] citizens all around the world — including in the United States — to want a world beyond the mess we have today in the Middle East and South Asia.” I never realized that people need help “to want” a happy world.
Steve goes on to claim that Obama “speaks past the dictators to regular people.” Really? Obama’s policy towards Iran is addressed precisely to its bloody dictators in the hope that they will allow him try to charm them out of developing nuclear weapons. As to the “regular people” of Iran, Obama, after several false starts, could do no more than assure them that the world is “bearing witness.” But what the world witnesses is the U.S. hoping that the Mullahs will warm to him and perhaps see fit one day to ease up a bit on their oppression.
Nor has Obama spoken past Hugo Chavez to the beleaguered people of Venezuela. To be sure, in the Cairo speech that Steve touts, Obama made a few limp references to the virtues of democracy. But they were far less full-throated than those routinely offered by President Bush, who toppled (not just spoke past) two of the worst, most dangerous dictators and brought democracy to tens of millions of Muslims.
Steve concludes that Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because “he is a global leader who clearly saw the gains that could be made in changing ‘the optics’ of the global order, upgrading the level of respect between the United States and other nations, making a point of listening to other leaders.” But what gains have been made, non-metaphorically speaking? Even Obama seemed to recognize, or at least pay lip service to, the absence of any when he suggested that his Peace Prize (as opposed to the Optics Prize) might better have awaited the positive results he sees coming.
Take the Middle East, for example. Steve praises Obama for making the “peace process” a priority, but he ignores the fact that Obama completely botched his effort, thus strengthening the Israeli government he sees as a barrier to peace, and making life even more difficult for the Palestinian leader on whom he pins his hopes for progress. Even the Palestinians reportedly were among those who balked at Obama’s Nobel Prize. Like the rest of us, they prefer results to metaphors.
This, then, is an award that only the ambassador to metaphors, puns, and non-sequiturs can love; it is an award to the president of metaphors for precisely his metaphors. The “ambassador” and his president think they inhabit a world where a nicely-turned phrase is instantly transformative, thereby eliminating any need to weigh, pre-utterance, its impact and to observe its impact after the fact. They think they live in a world governed by something called “world opinion,” rather than by the calculating behavior of the cynical, and in some cases evil, leaders of particular nations.
In that world, Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. But shouldn’t we wait to see whether (contrary to evidence of thousands of years of history) that world is our world — the world as it is — before applauding the award?
UPDATE: Steve Clemons served as the executive director of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom. So who is the impostor that’s blowing kisses to the foreign polilcy of “hope” and the “unclenched fist”?
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