The Obama Watch

Nobel Peace Prize Update

Has "The One" met expectations?

By 10.15.10

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Last year Wall Street Journal pundit Bret Stephens played contrarian against the flood of negative comment about the Nobel Committee awarding its 2009 Peace Prize to President Obama, after less than a year in office and with nothing to show for his labors. Stephens made a case for the award going to America's tyro President: Looking at the Nobel Peace Prize's 108-year roster of winners, President Obama does in fact richly deserve his award, wrote Stephens. The President is "a perfect pick" in light of a long record -- and not just in recent decades -- of Nobel awards going to peaceniks, terrorists, blowhards, and others who fit what Oriana Fallaci called "Goodists" -- do-gooders who do little good and carp at those who actually do good. No peace prize went to the likes of FDR, Churchill, Truman, nor to Ronald Reagan (Gorbachev got one). Diplomats Frank Kellogg and Aristide Briand won, the former for the 1928 eponymous Kellogg-Briand pact that outlawed war as an instrument of national policy. The Japanese signed that pact two years before invading Manchuria.

While some notably deserving people -- think Mother Teresa, Lech Walesa -- have won, Stephens offers abundant evidence that 44 should mostly rue the company he keeps. My favorite awardee is the 1910 winner: an outfit called the Permanent International Peace Bureau -- victorious just four years before Germany unleashed World War I. Read the Nobel Committee's narrative on the Bureau and savor: It notes that World War I "hindered" the Bureau's work and that "for technical and ideological reasons" World War II halted its work. Funny how getting millions of people killed will do that.

Prior Presidential winners were Teddy Roosevelt (1906) for brokering the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War (Russia got creamed); Woodrow Wilson (1919) for brokering the ruinous Versailles Treaty that set the stage for the rise of Adolf Hitler and, later, World War II; and Jimmy Carter (2002), ostensibly for having brokered the Camp David Accord (1979) between Egypt and Israel, but actually as a slap in the face to President George W. Bush (a motive clearly present in Obama's win as well).

TR richly deserved his honor; his prize helped make America a top player on the international stage. As for Wilson, one is reduced to Joe E. Brown's tagline to Jack Lemmon at the end of Some Like It Hot (1959): "Nobody's perfect!" As for Jimmy Earl, his prime accomplishment during his four years was arguably not Camp David, which was made possible by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's 1977 visit to Jerusalem, hastily arranged to pre-empt the Carter idea of convening everyone, including radicals and terrorists, at Geneva for diplomatic palaver. Rather, it was Carter's irresolution in the face of Soviet adventurism that convinced Moscow to invade Afghanistan in December 1979, leaving Jimmy Earl sputtering that Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev had lied to him (imagine that!). Another notable laureate was Sir Norman Angell in 1933, for having predicted in his book The Great Illusion (1910) that a world war was impossible due to interlocked economies of the great nations. The Nobel Committee honored him 19 years after Angell's prediction was blown sky high, literally, and 15 years after "The War to End All Wars" decimated the "Lost Generation" of Europe's young.

Which brings us to The One's report card since his December 2009 Nobel address. Let's tally things up: First, Obama's mindless obsession with Israeli settlements has scuttled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, by getting the Palestinians to insist that settlements be halted before talks can proceed. Prior to Obama's ascendancy the Palestinians had never insisted on this, but after Obama did -- as did Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell, who seems unable to see any differences between the Irish and the Palestinians -- how could the Palestinians ask for less? (Simple test, George: Ask a Palestinian to sing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"….)

Second, President Obama stood aside as Hamid Karzai stole the 2009 Afghan Presidential election, enraging Afghans and undermining NATO's counter-insurgency. Karzai repaid this kindness by playing both sides in the war.

Third, there is President Obama's inattention to internecine governmental squabbling in Iraq, as if he were indifferent to what kind of government emerges, after all the blood and treasure America spent in that country.

And finally, there is President Obama's feckless pursuit of negotiations plus tepid Russia- and China-limited UN sanctions against Iran, as Iran marches merrily on toward joining the nuclear club. Perhaps the administration did unleash the recent "Stuxnet worm" that gummed up computers at key Iranian nuclear sites for a time; if so, this is great foreign policy but not the kind of thing that the Nobel nabobs value, albeit it does far more for peace than diplomatic jabber. A nuclear Iran would be the jewel in the crown of Obama's Prize, very possibly unleashing a conflagration that would kill more millions in less time than any calamity in the history of humankind. Such would be, to borrow a phrase from Homeland Insecurity Secretary Janet Napolitano, the ultimate "man-caused disaster."

In 2010 the award has gone to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Anyone with the courage to face down Beijing's brutalitarian regime has my admiration. But come to think of it, why didn't the Nobel folks give a second award -- celebrating an exact centennial since the first one -- to the Permanent International Peace Bureau, which has performed flawlessly since then (save when major wars intervened)? President Obama will have to ignite a nuclear war, if he wants to top the PIPB's first peace century.

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About the Author

John C. Wohlstetter is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, author of Sleepwalking With the Bomb, and founder of the issues blog Letter From the Capitol.