OK – A little honesty up front. I am an adamant supporter of Obama’s domestic policies, and cautiously optimistic about his foreign policy. I am also as surprised as anyone that he won the Nobel Peace Prize this morning.
I am not even slightly surprised by the attacks against his winning it that have come from the right. In the words of Alan Grayson, “If the President has a BLT tomorrow, the Republicans will try to ban bacon.” What surprises me is the reactions from independents, the left, and even libertarians. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding among Americans as to what the Noble Peace Prize is.
According to Nobel’s will , 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.”†
By this definition, the only authoritative one, many of the prizes that we have hailed are more of an exception than a rule. The International Red Cross has won the prize three times. Are they a fantastic organization that saves lives and deserves our highest praises? Yes. Have they 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? No. If anything, the Red Cross functions during wartime to prod nations into enforcing the agreed upon rules of war. They are the referees of the battlefields and the prisons. Is this a noble calling that saves lives and prevents a degredation of society during wartime? Absolutely. However, that is not the behavior that the Nobel Prize is meant to award.
In contrast, the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore was derided in many circles. One person on facebook said today that Al Gore didn’t deserve the award because climate change has nothing to do with violence.
There are two problems with that statement. First, ‘violence’ is not the correct antonym for ‘peace’ in this context, ‘war’ is. Second, the World Health Organization, a sea of climatologists, and a host of political scientists all agree on one thing – that long before climate change kills us we will kill each other over climate change. As large swaths of farm land become arid wastelands and seas start to swallow land we will be faced with mass starvation and mass migration. The very survival of nations could come to depend on seizing territory from their neighbors.
Is this sci-fi? Perhaps, if you believe that climate change risk is exagerated. Regardless, Gore’s actions defined within the parameters set by Alfred Nobel certainly qualify him for the prize.
Another argument I have heard is that since the Science Nobels require that someone produce something then the Peace prize should as well. Putting aside the definition of the prizes from Nobel’s will, the statement is incorrect.
Often the science prizes are awarded for a new discovery, theory, or explanation that might lead to a new way of treating cancer, or Alzheimers, or providing renewable energy. The practical applications are often years or even decades away, just as the results of peace overtures often are.
So is there a legitimate reason to object to Obama winning? Actually, yes, on technical grounds. The list of things that Obama has done to move us towards peace is impressive – he has N and S Korea talking again, gotten Iran to agree to ship out its nuclear fuel and ship in inspectors, is the first US President to call for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and has spoken directly to the world’s Muslims in a way that could make a real difference. However, he started doing them after he was nominated. The nomination is supposed to occur after the things you are nominated for, don’t you think? Essentially he was nominated not for what he had done, or what he was seeking, but for what the nominators believed he would seek based on his campaign rhetoric. That is quite a stretch.
So, in a nutshell, I believe he certainly was qualified to win given that he was nominated, even if there are perhaps better choices out there. However, he shouldn’t have been nominated until next year at the soonest.
What do you think?