Those Scandinavians, as we know from Munch, Hamsun, and Sibelius, are known for their riotous humor. And this time of year, as northern Europe begins its dive into collective Seasonal Affective Disorder, the Nobel Prizes afford an irresistible opportunity for global titters. Nonetheless, President Obama must be muttering, "With friends like these..." What's next, an honorary doctorate from Harvard, or perhaps a lifetime achievement award from ACORN?
I'm a sucker for grand symbolic gestures, but I have to believe that the Peace Prize is less about Obama himself than about the ideal of the United States as inspiring and responsible superpower, which people in most parts of world appear to want to be back. Who does the world look to? Europe? With polite curiosity. China? With wariness. Russia? Please. If the 19th century lasted, politically, until 1914, it appears the the American century, while a bit dyspneic lately, hasn't yet breathed its last.