By Avi Davis and Christian Whiton
Taken at face value, the decision by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to honor the American president with its Peace Prize would be a cause for celebration in the U.S. But the circumstances surrounding this decision call into question not only the choice to honor President Obama, but whether the Nobel Committee is able to discern real achievements of peace from illusory ones.
In announcing its decision, the Committee noted the President’s “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Furthermore, it said the Committee “has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
What exactly are these “extraordinary efforts”? While the announcement does not go into detail, one presumes the Nobel Committee is cheering the Obama Administration’s offer to conduct direct negotiations with Iran, its ‘reset’ of relations with Russia, and the President’s tendency to note the purported flaws of the country he represents. Has any of this led to actual accomplishments and has it really contributed to a material expansion of peace?
Even the President’s political supporters would probably concede it is too early to judge the outcome of these policies. This is true today and it certainly was true when Mr. Obama was nominated, which likely had to take place by the Committee’s deadline of February 1, 2009. On that day, the President had been in office for all of twelve days. That is a rather amazing fortnight’s work, considering some earlier recipients of the prize, such as Lech Walesa, toiled for years and risked everything they possessed—including their lives and freedom—before being recognized.
The reality is that the President’s policies have made long-term peace in the world less likely. Prolonged international negotiations with Iran, which started not with Mr. Obama but in fact have gone on throughout the decade, have actually given the Tehran regime time to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities while wars are fought through proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Similarly, the rhetorical and real concessions the Obama Administration has made to Moscow have yet to yield anything tangible in return other than modest verbal praise. The price paid for this volte face recently rose with the betrayal of two friendly governments—those of Poland and the Czech Republic – countries that had made the unpopular decision to host missile defense facilities at America’s earlier request. They must now be content with an expanded future missile threat from Iran, and also an emboldened Russian neighbor. It can’t be too far from the thoughts of the Polish and Czech leadership that just last year Russia invaded a country it borders. Skeptics are right to wonder how any of this contributes to long-term peace and security.
Perhaps the Nobel Committee’s most unjustified claim is that because of President Obama, “[d]emocracy and human rights are to be strengthened.” This is not even a claim typically made by the President’s most ardent supporters. Indeed, the unapologetic promotion of human rights and democracy that has had a place in a long succession of U.S. administrations has been disavowed by the Obama Administration. Secretary of State Clinton spelled out the rationale for this in her inaugural trip to China in February: “Our pressing on [human rights] issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.” Just this week the President refused to see the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington, the first time in eighteen years the renowned human rights advocate has not been received by a president. The President also refused to support pro-democracy protesters in Iran after the June elections there. Whether one advocates or opposes these policies, it is hard to believe that one can strengthen human rights and democracy while ignoring those actually fighting for them.
What then was the Nobel Committee’s criteria, if not quantifiable achievements for peace? Unfortunately, a look at more recent Nobel Prize recipients shows a bias toward trendy political causes and icons.
In 2001, the award was split between the United Nations and its then-kingpin, Kofi Annan. This was at a time when the UN was facilitating the largest instance of corruption in human history in the form of the Oil-for-Food Program, which also funneled billions of dollars to the Middle East’s most brutal and corrupt regime. Meanwhile, the UN was continuing its traditional role of providing a prominent platform for corrupt dictators from around the world. Did that help peace?
In 2002 it was awarded to Jimmy Carter, for “persevering in conflict resolution on several continents, and “ outstanding commitment to human rights.” They forgot to mention his apparently tireless coddling of dictators, tyrants and terrorists, his record of mocking the foreign policy of his own government and his avowed animus to the State of Israel.
In 2007, the awardees were Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As a private organization, it is the Nobel Institute’s prerogative to expand its view of threats to peace to a definition broader than traditional war. But in the year Gore won the prize, more than 800,000 people died of malaria. How many people died of climate change? But you can guess which issue was the zeitgeist that year.
Any true gauge of the reasons for this Award must necessarily produce some very disturbing truths: The Norwegian parliamentarians awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama because they feel he is one of them. His unwillingness to prosecute a vigorous American foreign policy; his apparent absence of belief in American exceptionalism and his penchant for apologizing for American actions abroad, all seem very much in keeping with a Euro-centric view of the world. For this crowd he is the ultimate un-George Bush, less jingoistic, more calm in temperament and much more likely to act in the pacific, multicultural and appeasement vein they so appreciate.
So just as the prize went to Carter seven years ago as a “kick in the leg” to the Bush Administration and the award went to Gore in 2007 as a spur to reject the supposedly anti-environment policies of that same gang, the Obama Award is designed as an attempt to enshrine the politics of “internationalization.” It is aimed at isolating Obama and his Administration from the main thrust of American foreign and domestic policies since the Second World War – which has been to provide the world with vigorous leadership in the promotion of democracy, liberty and free enterprise.
Many have argued that the Award’s prestige will burnish America’s international standing and build support for American intervention in other areas of conflict in the world. But the reverse is actually the case. Constrained by his new image as a peace maker, Barack Obama will inevitably struggle to meet the demands of upholding America’s international standards and leadership in regions of intense conflict such as Afghanistan, Israel and Iraq and in confronting the rising menace of a nuclear Iran. It will necessarily befuddle any attempts of his Administration to reform the United Nations and will diminish respect for America’s military clout.
It is welcome that the Nobel Committee has honored the U.S. by giving an award to its president. Unfortunately, every indication is that it did so for the wrong reasons. As with other once-respected institutions of Western Europe, the Nobel Committee has moved from rewarding merit and advancing classical liberalism to celebrating fashionable trends and rewarding whichever icon of the left is most active in promoting them.