The Nobel Peace Prize

EDITORIAL, 12 Oct 2009

#83 | Johan Galtung

The Nobel Peace prize to a president for rhetoric, with no real achievement, is like a peace prize for a movie to a former vice-president, with no real achievement either.

True, people are touched by a rhetoric everybody has heard, and even by a movie few have seen; but neither of them meets the criteria Nobel states in his will: understanding among nations, reduction of standing armies, and peace conferences. Yes, there was a change in international climate in the very beginning of Obama’s presidency, waiting for deeds to match the words. There was Obama magic; at that time no Olympic Committee would have denied him Chicago as venue.

But the magic started waning not only because there were so few concrete deeds, but also because Obama, when encountering resistance, seemed to leave clear stands for elusive appearance of a consensus, of being bipartisan, betraying millions of those who voted for him. A person who is led rather than a leader.

Michael Moore praises you in his congratulation because:

* you will close Guantanamo.  Really?  So why not do it?

* you will bring the troops home from Iraq. Really?  All troops?

* you admitted that the USA overthrew a democratically elected prime minister in Iran 1953.  Did we hear an apology?

* you made that great speech to the Islamic world in Cairo.  Yes, a great speech. The Palestinians are mainly Muslim. Any follow-up?

* you’ve eliminated that useless term “The War on Terror”.  How about eliminating the war, trying to understand, enter a dialogue?

* you’ve put an end to torture?  Have you? Is the UN monitoring?

The Nobel committee mentioned speeches about multilateral diplomacy and a nuclear-free world. As to the former, the action could have been to support the Goldstone Report, multilateralizing the issue. Instead, Washington pressured the Palestinian Authority to reject it, and killed it in the Security Council.

As to the latter, an executive order to destroy 10% of the US nuclear arsenal, inviting the Russians to reciprocate, and to invite IAEA inspection of US production facilities now suspected of engineering a new generation of nuclear arms.

But he canceled the Polish-Czech rocket shield against a Russian attack! Yes, but what will come in its place? Besides, canceling a reckless, stupid Bush policy is like harvesting laurels for stopping beating one’s wife.

The justification for the prize is so weak that there must be other motives. One was offered: to encourage Obama, to help him to follow the pointers given in his speeches. But that makes the prize even more problematic. He is now under more pressure to earn the prize, but the resistance against almost anything he does looks insurmountable.

He does not command a majority in Congress given the traditional split among the Democrats. The mobilization of the lunatic US right wing, even against health insurance, is indicative; some of it racist, some of it reactionary, most of it the reaction of a deeply frustrated public seeing the status of their country under God trickle down like sand between their fingers, economically, militarily, politically. And worst of all: culturally, not supported by Him, because the American people did not keep their side of the covenant? Obama will be squeezed more than ever to earn the prize, but his power is built on that sand.

There is a way out: translate words into executive orders, taking the flak afterwards. The consensus is not there anyhow. The dream of riding on a bipartisan wave after the Bush eight years of disaster was already shattered by the first vote. That would expose him to the dangers of open struggle, but then why not? The president has extensive veto power. Or, is fighting not to his liking? Not having FDR level political capital to draw upon?

Beyond a possible impeachment in Congress the danger of assassination attempts is lurking. But here the Nobel Peace Prize may come to his rescue, giving him a glory that may stay the finger, already on the trigger, of the would-be assassin. Some invulnerability, good in itself, but not what the prize is about.

Let us scan the world political horizon for presidents–if the committee goes for nothing less–with proven achievements. To work for peace is to work for equity, to work for equity may mean to work against inequity, inequity may be based on fragmentation, to weave countries kept apart although they are neighbors is a step toward equity, and hence peace. That points to two other presidents, Lula for Latin America and Qaddafi for Africa. Both have come further in translating words into deeds than Obama.

But the problem is a prize traditionally given by a small client country in the West to praise the West, with the desperate hope that through Obama the “leader of the free world” can still be a part of the solution rather than a major part of the problem.  The idea that Obama can set all that right is actually loaded with disrespect for US democracy, as if Obama were a dictator.

Many, most, in the West love to love America. Bush made that impossible, and with the Western fascination with No. 1, change opened the love sluices. The prize is supposed to become a self-fulfilling prophecy: give him the prize and peace will follow.

But is using the prize for collective self-therapy not going too far in disrespect for Nobel’s will?  To a person increasing the army rather than reducing it? And, is relying on faith and words, rather than deeds, not riding too far on the protestant groundswell of the country chosen by Nobel to execute his will?

The Nobel Prize can probably no longer be saved. May the world come up with other prizes, for real peace achievements.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Oct 2009.

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