In announcing that President Barack Obama had been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee was greeted with gasps from his audience. Those gasps were soon echoed around the world and by people of every political stripe. Reliably liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen mocked the choice (while also taking an obligatory swipe at Sarah Palin, natch). Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg’s initial reaction was to laugh at the selection. Former Nobel Laureate, human rights activist and Polish President Lech Walesa asked “Who, Obama? So fast? “ When the press sought out the opinion of the public at large to Obama’s receiving the Award they were frequently met with a question: What for?
Over the past seven years or so the Nobel Committee has been fairly transparent in the giving the Peace Prize two other times for one of the same reason’s Barack Obama is receiving it this year: to spite former President George W. Bush. Jimmy Carter’s 2002 and Al Gore’s 2007 Peace Prizes are generally acknowledged to have been awarded more as way of taking a slap at GWB than for either of those “esteemed gentleman’s” accomplishments. However obvious the motivation for Carter and Gore’s Awards, an argument (albeit a weak one) can be made for their having received it for some other sort of meritorious achievement. Not so with this year’s recipient. Nominated after being in office less than two weeks Obama’s “accomplishments” since that time remain to be anywhere in evidence. Iran and North Korea continue to build or plan for dangerously destabilizing nuclear arsenals. Afghanistan daily threatens to revive that old Vietnam-era phrase, “quagmire”. Terrorists don’t appear to be even mildly chastened by Obama’s appearance on the national stage. Peace is not breaking out in reaction to the Obama charm that has so vanquished the Nobel Committee.
The other reason Obama came in for this (formerly) high honor is the Committee’s desire to influence US policy. In an effort to keep Obama true to his natural inclination to view negotiations as the be-all and end-all in international conflict resolution the Committee adds pressure on him to keep to the spirit of his Peace Prize by not resorting to other, more muscular alternatives. As well as applying pressure this Award also plays to Obama’s ego. If we had a President who placed American security and interests above his own venality this ploy would be embarrassing but aimed as it is toward Obama it may well prove effective.
There is something deeply immoral in all of the Nobel Committee’s calculations here. In the past the Peace Prize frequently lived up to its original purpose delineated in Award founder Alfred Nobel’s will, going to “…to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The wide fame and high esteem in which the Peace Prize was held focused world attention on areas of grave human rights abuse and was itself a tool of moral suasion. The fact that the Committee has decided to honor a man utterly lacking in any real accomplishment beyond the ability to convincingly mouth platitudes written by others for him instead of to a person of real substance can only be seen as an enormous lost opportunity.
This year’s Award could have been given it to Voice of the Martyrs, a non-profit, inter-denominational Christian organization dedicated to stopping the persecution of Christians around the world. As Christianity is not a favored group among the cognoscenti scant attention is paid the awful abuses Christians face in places like Gaza and the West Bank, China, Indonesia, Egypt and Iran, among others. VOM works peacefully to support persecuted Christians and bring pressure to bear on the governments that allow and often encourage and participate in such persecution. A Peace Prize to this organization would have brought much needed attention to an often neglected problem.
If the Nobel Committee wished to give the Award to someone not in synch with Bush’s policies they could have made their point but given it to the more worthy Greg Mortenson, who has dedicated his life to building schools and educating the poor in Pakistan and Afghanistan at great personal risk. He was once kidnapped for eight days in Waziristan and regularly confronts threats from Muslim clerics opposed to his attempts to educate girls. Not a conservative (he opposed much of George Bush’s efforts to fight terrorism militarily) his choice nonetheless would have been a way to highlight the narrowness and cruelty of Muslim extremism.
Another worthy recipient would have been Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s former Prime Minister, and brutal quasi-Maoist President Robert Mugabe’s chief opponent. Since taking power in 1980 Mugabe has turned Zimbabwe from an economically dynamic nation into one of the world’s most desperate basket cases, while employing some of the most violent and repressive methods seen in the world today. Surviving at least three assassination attempts (in one of which his wife was killed), arrests and intimidation Tsvangirai continues to try to bring democratic change to Zimbabwe. Awarding the Peace Prize to Tsvangirai would have had the effect of adding to the pressure on Mugabe and perhaps forcing most of Zimbabwe’s neighbors (who have been tepid supporters of change, at best) to take more forceful measures to unseat or moderate him.
Ignoring all these and many more very worthy potential recipients of the Award in favor of a man, not only utterly lacking in accomplishment but not even with enough time in office to determine his actual commitment to the principles upon which the Award is ostensibly given is an act of willful neglect of such magnitude that it constitutes nothing less than a moral crime. In an act of petulant, ideological spite and childish capriciousness the Nobel Committee has taken what had been a moral weapon that held the possibility of bringing positive change to suffering people and turned it into a punch line. The concept of peace has been diminished by this Award and shame has a new face, a Norwegian one.
Edmond D. Smith aka Nocomme1 is a social worker, adjunct college instructor and freelance writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]