Rewarding Hope

PARIS – By awarding its Peace Prize for 2009 to Barack Obama, the Nobel Committee took a big risk. Even if Obama is obviously something of a pacifist, the president of the United States leads the world’s most powerful military, one that is still waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, on its face, the choice does not appear to be an obvious one.

Some observers around the world criticized the Nobel Committee for rewarding only lofty rhetoric by anointing Obama as this year’s peace laureate. I believe that this criticism is perverse and inappropriate – and thus dangerous. For it consists in condemning hope as nothing more than ephemeral words.

Yet, in politics, words can be actions. Obama’s speech in Cairo earlier this year contributed, at the very least, to a change in the climate of the relationship between the Muslim world and America. The words that Obama has said to Iran may not yet have borne fruit, but talks with Iran have resumed and the International Atomic Energy Agency will send inspectors to the nuclear plants near Qom that had been secret until last month.

It is also thanks to words – two statements followed by a conversation – exchanged between