Oct 10 2009

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“Hollow Honor”

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  • As custom and protocol would dictate, my hearty congratulations go out to President Obama for winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Include me among the astonished at the announcement. The news is more significant given that only three other US Presidents have won the award, and they actually had to do something consequential to win it.1
  • Admit it, as it relates to Obama, there is something uniquely fitting in this award at this time.
  • Obama won it, much like he won the election last year – and indeed the elections of his meteoric political rise – not based on any real record of accomplishment, but on his unique life story and public image as a change agent, capable of intoxicatingly powerful and poetic prose.
  • Can anyone keep a straight face about the award considering that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee deadline for submissions of suitable candidates was February 1, 2009 when Barack Obama had been president for 12 days?2
  • The Nobel Committee stated that Obama was picked because of, “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”3 Can anyone tell me what Barack Obama did in twelve days to accomplish the substantive and weighty goals attributed to him?
  • Though technically it shouldn’t count, can anyone tell me what he has done in the 250 days since the nominations deadline?
  • Consider Alfred Nobel’s instructions regarding who should be awarded the prize.  “[The peace prize should be awarded] 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.”4
  • With those instructions, the vanity and pretension that are the mark of the Committee’s work for this year is only made more painfully clear by those that who have deservingly won the award over the decades.
  • Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for decades, lived to dissolve Apartheid with the very people who imprisoned him, and then lead a government based on reconciliation, was the awardee in 1993.  Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues to fight for Burmese independence won in 1991. The Dali Lama won in 1989. Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker who led a revolution that eventually toppled communism won in 1983.
  • To place today’s announcement in context; would you put President Obama in the same category as Mother Theresa, the winner of the Prize in 1979?  Can you do so without bursting into sustained laughter?
  • As for the President’s predecessors in office, Jimmy Carter won in 2002 for his international “good works,” which can be traced back to the Camp David Accords. Woodrow Wilson won in 1919 for trumpeting his “14 Points” to guide global diplomacy through liberty and freedom and self determination. Teddy Roosevelt won in 1906 for successfully arbitrating and ending the 1905 Russo-Japanese War.
  • Whatever your thoughts on these officials – and in the nearly 30 years since he was thrown out of the White House Carter has not been unblemished for controversy in this journal’s opinion – these Chief Executives made substantial accomplishments.
  • Unfortunately for the memory of Nobel, those who act in his name more recently have used the award not to recognize accomplishment but to make contemporary political statements. It has cheapened the value of the award accordingly.
  • Consider that as the globe turned against the US led conflict in Iraq, and John Kerry lost the US presidential election in 2004, the Committee selected Mohammad El Baradei as its Peace Prize winner in 2005. El Baradei was a skeptic of Iraqi WMD – proven right, as it turns out – and the UN official that tangled early and often with the Bush administration over the nuclear ambitions of both Iraq and Iran.  He is busy these days explaining away Iranian nuclear ambitions.
  • And of course in 2007, when President Bush was reviled by the international community for the Iraq War and refused to agree to comprehensive limits on Greenhouse Gas emissions that did not include developing countries, the Committee awarded the Peace Prize to former Vice President and global warming alarmist Al Gore; an exquisite international slap that blended scars of resentment from the 2000 US election with global condemnation of Bush environmental policies.
  • However, at least in the case of El Baradei and Gore, there was the fig leaf of recognized accomplishment as the Committee pursued a political statement.  El Baradei was right on Iraqi WMD.  Gore, despite the hypocrisy of his colossal carbon footprint, is a committed environmental advocate with a record.
  • Obama?
  • Thus far he has committed to keeping US combat forces in Iraq through 2011. He has sent more troops to Afghanistan (and should agree to his general’s proposal to send even more to achieve stability).  
  • In a program crucial to US security, but probably an abomination that the Peace Prize Committee was forced to overlook, the US continues to use Predator drones to target and vanish terrorists in remote areas of Pakistan/Afghanistan.
  • The vaunted Mitchell Middle East peace initiative has faltered on the political realities of the Middle East. The Administration seems nothing short of impotent as North Korea detonates nuclear weapons and test fires missiles, and the Iranians refuse to talk about ending their nuclear program as they join the negotiating table. The US is nothing more than a bit player in the coup that overthrew the Honduran government, with the US aligned with Hugo Chavez for good measure.
  • Yes, Obama has called for negotiations with the Russians on nuclear weapons reduction and called for a nuclear free world.
  • But consider that between 1985 and 2008, US-Soviet strategic nuclear stockpiles were cut from 15,000 warheads on each side to less than 2,200 today.5  When Ronald Reagan called for a nuclear free world, he was seen as either naïve or a craven cynic. The Gipper didn’t get the call from Oslo. But Obama chairs the UN Security Council and talks up disarmament and he gets the Peace Prize?
  • But a lack of any tangible results does not mean that Obama has not done anything in the eyes of the Committee.
  • This journal has chronicled Obama’s apologies and out-right revisionist history as he has toured the globe, rejecting American Exceptionalism, cataloguing perceived American mistakes and shortcomings and promising a regular and humbled America that rejects international leadership for collective international wisdom.
  • It would be insidious, but not beyond the realm of possibility, that this new posture is what drove the Obama award.
  • When I was eight, I attended a birthday party for a neighborhood friend.  The elaborate celebration included a number of competitive games, none of which I was able to win. At the end of the games, the birthday boy’s mom handed out little plastic trophies.  As it turns out, I was the only child who had not won an event. No problem, Mrs. Chen had a trophy for me as well; for simply showing up for the party and playing.
  • To this day I don’t know if I was more mortified by losing all the games, or the fact that I got a trophy for nothing.
  • As an American, I hope there is a day when President Obama does something that genuinely merits the Nobel Peace prize as it was originally intended. But accepting it now only further cheapens the award and its consequence later should his stirring rhetoric actually translate into tangible results.
  • Recognizing the obvious lack of merit, Obama should turn the award down.
  • I can almost guarantee that the citizens he leads, steeped in a sense of fair play, will give him a bump in the polls for not accepting an international empty gesture.

1. Wikipedia – Nobel Peace Prize

2. Associated Press

3. Nobel Peace Prize Announcement – 10-8-09

4. Wikipedia – Alfred Nobel

5. Congressional Research Service.


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