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LISBON, Oct 13 2009 (IPS) - The news was like a ray of sunlight that lit the entire world: “Obama Awarded Nobel Peace Prize!” It was unexpected, for many premature, and set off a wide range of reactions in every corner of the planet.

This is natural. In a world as dangerous and complex as ours today, changing with lightning speed, raging with aggressive competing interests, and whose course is uncertain and problematic, it is understandable that the news sparked such a wide variety of responses, from resounding applause, to treacherous reserve, open displeasure, and cautious doubt about the merits and motivation of the award.

The courage and timing of the decision by the Nobel committee has been corroborated by the controversy that the decision has stirred up. Obama is one of that rarest type of human who leaves no one indifferent. He is a part of the future of all of us, and because of this he is both loved and hated, in America as well as the rest of the world.

From my point of view, this most revered of all prizes could not have been awarded in a more timely and more appropriate manner.

Some have criticised the decision, arguing that Obama has been in office for such a brief period that he has not had time to accomplish anything concrete, whether in the US, Iraq, or Guantanamo. What has he accomplished? There is one remarkable feat: he has radically changed his country and the world.

The reputation of the United States under George W. Bush was seriously debased by its grave violations of human rights -the real litmus test of the so-called free world- and by brazenly lying about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He hobbled the United Nations, provoked two bloody wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and involved NATO in its first war ever, which was not only a fatal error but actually a crime. He encouraged a frenzy of speculative neo-liberal capitalism which was to provoke the global financial and economic crisis that we are now living through.

Obama put an end to the arrogant and aggressive unilateralism of the US, which, with the most powerful military on earth, assumed for itself the role of “ruler of the world”. He believes in multilateralism, promotes dialogue among countries, has extended a hand to the Arabs, scrapped the plan to install an anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe (obviously intended for Russia), initiated talks with China, proposed a new relationship with Latin America on equal footing (agreeing to negotiate with Cuba without preconditions and to take concrete steps towards lifting the embargo, and condemning the coup in Honduras, thus signalling a very important shift in US attitude). As an African American he made a very important opening towards Africa, proclaimed before the United Nations the importance of dialogue, peace, and respect for the dignity of all peoples, proposed a programme of progressive denuclearisation, and at this December’s meeting in Copenhagen will sign and relaunch the mechanisms of the Kyoto protocols to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions and initiate a policy to defend the planet.

Are these examples mere words, promises without meaning? Anyone who argues they are does not have a clear understanding how important the defence of ideas and good causes is, and has always been, to the progress of the world.

That said, no one has a magic wand that can instantly change the world, not even Obama. On the other hand, as a democrat and a humanist, Obama does not make use of threats or decrees. His approach is to propose and persuade. With realism and persistence he tries to get across his ideas and values and win support for his policies. This is his approach in seeking agreement on a negotiated peace with the goal of ending overt and latent wars, as part of a global vision that seeks a solution to this and other contemporary challenges.

Obama is not alone. He has the support of the majority of Americans, the young, the poor, and the intellectual, scientific, and artistic elites. They are against the major, entrenched interests, and the selfishness and unconscious egotism forged by a culture of violence and disinformation.

Obama’s greatest strength derives from the hope he arouses for a better world, one with more solidarity and justice. This is not a new utopia. Today it is possible to take a major step forward, like those taken during other crucial periods of history.

In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation among peoples”, the committee demonstrated both courage and lucidity. “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.”

Congratulations to Oslo! Do we want Obama to accomplish more in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Cuba? Yes, but we should remember that Obama negotiates, he doesn’t decree. And as the Italians say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mario Soares is ex-president and ex-prime minister of Portugal.

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