Bono of U2: Rebranding America-Barack Obama and His Noble Peace Prize


Rebranding America

by Bono of U2

BonoU2A FEW years ago, I accepted a Golden Globe award by barking out an expletive.

One imagines President Obama did the same when he heard about his Nobel, and not out of excitement.

When Mr. Obama takes the stage at Oslo City Hall this December, he won’t be the first sitting president to receive the peace prize, but he might be the most controversial. There’s a sense in some quarters of these not-so-United States that Norway, Europe and the World haven’t a clue about the real President Obama; instead, they fixate on a fantasy version of the president, a projection of what they hope and wish he is, and what they wish America to be.

Well, I happen to be European, and I can project with the best of them. So here’s why I think the virtual Obama is the real Obama, and why I think the man might deserve the hype. It starts with a quotation from a speech he gave at the United Nations last month:

“We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”

They’re not my words, they’re your president’s. If they’re not familiar, it’s because they didn’t make many headlines. But for me, these 36 words are why I believe Mr. Obama could well be a force for peace and prosperity — if the words signal action.

The millennium goals, for those of you who don’t know, are a persistent nag of a noble, global compact. They’re a set of commitments we all made nine years ago whose goal is to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Barack Obama wasn’t there in 2000, but he’s there now. Indeed he’s gone further — all the way, in fact. Halve it, he says, then end it.

Many have spoken about the need for a rebranding of America. Rebrand, restart, reboot. In my view these 36 words, alongside the administration’s approach to fighting nuclear proliferation and climate change, improving relations in the Middle East and, by the way, creating jobs and providing health care at home, are rebranding in action.

These new steps — and those 36 words — remind the world that America is not just a country but an idea, a great idea about opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man.

All right … I don’t speak for the rest of the world. Sometimes I think I do — but as my bandmates will quickly (and loudly) point out, I don’t even speak for one small group of four musicians. But I will venture to say that in the farthest corners of the globe, the president’s words are more than a pop song people want to hear on the radio. They are lifelines.

In dangerous, clangorous times, the idea of America rings like a bell (see King, M. L., Jr., and Dylan, Bob). It hits a high note and sustains it without wearing on your nerves. (If only we all could.) This was the melody line of the Marshall Plan and it’s resonating again. Why? Because the world sees that America might just hold the keys to solving the three greatest threats we face on this planet: extreme poverty, extreme ideology and extreme climate change. The world senses that America, with renewed global support, might be better placed to defeat this axis of extremism with a new model of foreign policy.

It is a strangely unsettling feeling to realize that the largest Navy, the fastest Air Force, the fittest strike force, cannot fully protect us from the ghost that is terrorism …. Asymmetry is the key word from Kabul to Gaza …. Might is not right.

I think back to a phone call I got a couple of years ago from Gen. James Jones. At the time, he was retiring from the top job at NATO; the idea of a President Obama was a wild flight of the imagination.

General Jones was curious about the work many of us were doing in economic development, and how smarter aid — embodied in initiatives like President George W. Bush’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief and the Millennium Challenge Corporation — was beginning to save lives and change the game for many countries. Remember, this was a moment when America couldn’t get its cigarette lighted in polite European nations like Norway; but even then, in the developing world, the United States was still seen as a positive, even transformative, presence.

The general and I also found ourselves talking about what can happen when the three extremes — poverty, ideology and climate — come together. We found ourselves discussing the stretch of land that runs across the continent of Africa, just along the creeping sands of the Sahara — an area that includes Sudan and northern Nigeria. He also agreed that many people didn’t see that the Horn of Africa — the troubled region that encompasses Somalia and Ethiopia — is a classic case of the three extremes becoming an unholy trinity (I’m paraphrasing) and threatening peace and stability around the world

The military man also offered me an equation. Stability = security + development.

In an asymmetrical war, he said, the emphasis had to be on making American foreign policy conform to that formula.

Enter Barack Obama.

If that last line still seems like a joke to you … it may not for long.

Mr. Obama has put together a team of people who believe in this equation. That includes the general himself, now at the National Security Council; the vice president, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; the Republican defense secretary; and a secretary of state, someone with a long record of championing the cause of women and girls living in poverty, who is now determined to revolutionize health and agriculture for the world’s poor. And it looks like the bipartisan coalition in Congress that accomplished so much in global development over the past eight years is still holding amid rancor on pretty much everything else. From a development perspective, you couldn’t dream up a better dream team to pursue peace in this way, to rebrand America.

The president said that he considered the peace prize a call to action. And in the fight against extreme poverty, it’s action, not intentions, that counts. That stirring sentence he uttered last month will ring hollow unless he returns to next year’s United Nations summit meeting with a meaningful, inclusive plan, one that gets results for the billion or more people living on less than $1 a day. Difficult. Very difficult. But doable.

The Nobel Peace Prize is the rest of the world saying, “Don’t blow it.”

But that’s not just directed at Mr. Obama. It’s directed at all of us. What the president promised was a “global plan,” not an American plan. The same is true on all the other issues that the Nobel committee cited, from nuclear disarmament to climate change — none of these things will yield to unilateral approaches. They’ll take international cooperation and American leadership.

The president has set himself, and the rest of us, no small task.

That’s why America shouldn’t turn up its national nose at popularity contests. In the same week that Mr. Obama won the Nobel, the United States was ranked as the most admired country in the world, leapfrogging from seventh to the top of the Nation Brands Index survey — the biggest jump any country has ever made. Like the Nobel, this can be written off as meaningless … a measure of Mr. Obama’s celebrity (and we know what people think of celebrities).

But an America that’s tired of being the world’s policeman, and is too pinched to be the world’s philanthropist, could still be the world’s partner. And you can’t do that without being, well, loved. Here come the letters to the editor, but let me just say it: Americans are like singers — we just a little bit, kind of like to be loved. The British want to be admired; the Russians, feared; the French, envied. (The Irish, we just want to be listened to.) But the idea of America, from the very start, was supposed to be contagious enough to sweep up and enthrall the world.

And it is. The world wants to believe in America again because the world needs to believe in America again. We need your ideas — your idea — at a time when the rest of the world is running out of them.

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9 comments on “Bono of U2: Rebranding America-Barack Obama and His Noble Peace Prize


  2. You’re right Robert….and the best way to start bringing back that history is learn how to spell damn names right.

    It’s Timbuktu man.

  3. as a BBoy of of over 26 yrs (Renegade Rockers Alumni) & being Puerto Rican. just wanted to put my comment to Robert’s. I dont think they’re trying to say Def Jam put Hip Hop on the Map as far as creation or being the first. Sugar Hill was yes, the first rap i ever heard. But Rap is not the full representation of Hip Hop. It is one of its 4 main elements (Rap, Dj, Break & graffiti) but those records back then were more disco oriented. not really using samples, but instrumental versions of songs already popular at that time. with bass lines and live drums. Def Jam used every element of Hip Hop to make its music. Samples, break beats, no bass lines just a big drum beat or an 808 kick. looping beats which was just like a dj jugglin breaks live on wheels.. and the attitude of the songs represented the culture which is from the streets. even the clothes set a standard for that era of hip hop. it also (sugar hill) didnt fully promote the Culture of Hip Hop. from Run DMC to LL, to Beastie Boys, they set trends in the whole Hip Hop Culture. no disrepect to Sugar hill whatsoever, but in those videos you saw Disco dancin and bell bottoms not breakers, Graffiti on walls and sweat suits, fat laces etc. Das Hip Hop. and i believe Def Jam put all that on the Map, along with Grand Master Flash and Africa Bambata , so the rest of the nation could see it like LA, Bay Area , Miami etc, which from that, created their own styles. as far as the whole Jewish thing, thats more about the business of Hip Hop, and das a whole nother topic…:) thanks Robert….Peace

  4. Jason, I can appreaciate what you said, but what you know and what I know is not what’s being said on other sites. They saying Def Jam put Hip-hop on the map. I can agree with that. I’m from Philadelphia, PA. If it was not for people like me and others who bought the Rap albums of 1979, the whole Hip-hop thing would be stick in New York, Now, after 30 years of listening and being a part of Rap Music, I went to college with those who were b-boys, I went to college with those who did tags or grafitti, I used to pop, rap, and dj a little. But from 1979 to 1983, not even the people that i knew from New York was calling the New York vibe Hip-hop. Those who dressed with the JJ denim jackets and Kangos were B-boys. Those of us who rapped were emcees, or as we called ourselves “rappers”. It was books and a movie called “Wildstyle” that took everything and hogpogged New York as “Hip-hop”. Don’t have time to prove it, but Hip-hop did “not” exist outside of New York until movies and books. I do not have the time, but you will not find that term officially until about 1984 on LL’s album. I was there, outside of New York, New York has someone else pushing the story, and they don’t even realize they pushing Black people right out of history. Oh, I know Crazy Legs, Ruby D, Tito and them, but the history has been manufactured to sell records not credit the Originators. New York sold out, Brother! Got to give Def Jam credit, but if Black people knew their history they’d say “Damn, they did it again!” Can’t explain it, Bro. You have to have been following this stuff carefully since 1979, because how they tell it is to keep the industry going… All I do is keep telling the truth, maybe one day people will say, “Yeah, what did happen from 1979 – 1983 with that industry called Rap Music that was later changed to Hip-hop, and WHO did actually end up with all of the money in end?” And Sugar Hill records was distributing to the west coast, because back in the day New York and California were the movers and shakers. I respect your insite and good to hear someone was donw for 26 years, but just know those elements were not “One” until movies and books said so, not Bam, Herc, or Flash or New York. The history is confused by a term. A term that did not intially describe what you did 26 years ago, nor what i did 30 years ago. To me that term was a negative term that didn’t pick up any speed until after “WildStyle” and David Toops book. This ain’t that deep, but if you knew and understood Black history and saw what’s being done to the history of Rap Music, you’d say “Damn, not again”. But for those without the knowledge, you won’t understand. And I accept that.

  5. In case no one noticed, the article isn’t exactly about Def Jam, is it? So, Robert Jr., go vent your pathetic frustrations somewhere else, cause this is not the place to do that.

  6. bobby, trust me, no frustration, just telling the truth. Just surprised nothing was set up for “their” Hip-hop Honors. Another “stolen legacy”. Yeah, it is pathetic how a people can continually “steal” and no one is supposed to say anything. That’s pathetic.

  7. Obamas prize will be the noose around his neck that hopefully gets him convicted of the war crimes he commits each time he kills civilians in pakistan with his cowardly remote controlled cia drones. it is a war crime to drop ordinances on countries you dont have a war declaration with.

    Bono and obama are jokes. This is the 3rd term of Bush here ladies and gents, and this clown gets the peace prize.

    Well i guess when you consider kissinger and the other war criminals that have won it in the past, he is in good company. His prize was a gift from his masters the rothschilds. He got the gift so he will be a good puppet for them.

    How is that hope and change workin out???

  8. Ask Nikki D is Hip hop pushing Black people out of history. If the establishment ain’t get rich off you for selling millions of units and white people don’t know you, you don’t matter in the “Hip-Hop” (Helping ignorant People – Hurt Our people) game. But you’ll be remembered in the history of “Rap Music”, Sista. There are two histories – ONE THAT THEY CREATE AND MAKE MONEY OFF OF AND THE ONE ORIGNALLY CALLED “RAP MUSIC”. Love yourself, people.

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