October 14, 2009

The 2009 Nobel Prize: Even Alfred Nobel Would Have Gasped

by Hal Gershowitz

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We had teed up a different essay for this week. The surprise announcement, however, that the Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to President Obama trumps other subjects, given its potential effect on major American security issues.

At the outset, we could stipulate that Americans can take pride that our president, a good, decent, likeable and well-intentioned man, has received this once-prestigious recognition. But, should we? We think one would have to be able to look into the hearts and minds of the members of the Awards Committee before we take pride in the honor bestowed upon our President. Was the Nobel Prize awarded because of what President Obama accomplished in the twelve days he was President before his nomination was submitted, or was the Prize awarded because of what the Committee hoped he would do during the remaining years of his Presidency? The question answers itself.

We need not look too far back into history to ponder the aspirations of recent honorees. Generally, the prize has been given to people who represent the European appeasement view of the world. Such awardees as Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Mohamed ElBaradei, and Yasser Arafat could only receive a peace prize from a group of people who seem serially to avert their eyes from danger. This peace-through-appeasement thread runs deep in Europe. How else could we explain a Daladier or a Chamberlain giving away at Munich the European continent to Hitler? And how else could we explain the absence of a Nobel Laureate among the opposition leaders in Germany or Italy in the 1920s or 1930s who risked their lives to preserve freedom and liberty in their countries or of an opposition leader from any of the thugocracies that imprison their own people to this day.

America has, when deemed necessary, and often with the tacit approval of these same allies, pursued the needed and often controversial muscularity in foreign policy from which the Europeans continually shrink. Presidents and other world leaders have to deal with crises that, from time to time, demand firm, dangerous and, sometimes, controversial action. That’s the nature of leadership in a cruel and often brutal world. However, the judicious use of force is typically far more essential to the maintenance of peace and freedom than the conferring of a Nobel Peace Price. We, of course, recognize that firmness against aggressors and usurpers is not the stuff of Nobel Prize ceremonies.

Those who the Nobel Prize Committee saw fit to ignore during the last century might be instructive in divining what motivates these wise men from Oslo. Churchill and Roosevelt (it would, perhaps, be unseemly to include Josef Stalin here) were passed over after, quite literally, rescuing the Norwegians along with the rest of humanity from the certain enslavement of the Nazis and their fascist allies. Truman didn’t make the grade either after inaugurating the Berlin Airlift to keep West Berliners from starving following the infamous Russian blockade. President Kennedy didn’t seem to capture their attention during the Berlin Crisis of 1961 or the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year. President George H.W.Bush’s intervention to stop Saddam Hussein’s clear aggression into Kuwait wasn’t deemed to be Prize material. Nor did the Nobel Committee notice Bill Clinton’s intervention in saving the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by leading 78 days of intensive NATO air strikes to stop the murderous ethnic cleansing of Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbian army.

We can assume that all of these men acted in accordance with their sober understanding that the country they led was the only one willing and able to prevent the further advancement of some form of totalitarianism, whether of the left or right. None of them would have chosen a less forceful course of action had they been prior recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, and we should, likewise, assume that being the recipient of the Prize would have little affect on President Obama’s judgment when he is next called upon to make a hard decision between endless diplomatic dithering and the use of force.

So then, just what were the members of the Awards Committee thinking? Do they really believe that with the Nobel Peace Prize on his mantel, the President would steer the American ship of state on a different course of action when danger threatens. We give the President far more credit than that. We’re not so sure, however, that other presidents in other places such as North Korea, Iran, Russia or Venezuela won’t be tempted to see whether this new Nobel Prize recipient will be loath to disappoint those pacifists who bestowed this honor upon him in anticipation of the change they seek to encourage. Although the Nobel Prize Committee members insist that they made their decision based on what President Obama has done and not what they anticipate he will do, the claim, if they are to be believed, is an incredible slap in the face to those who have put their safety, freedom and lives on the line over and over again in some very nasty places in the cause of justice and peace.

And while we are commenting on the Nobel Committee’s objectives, allow us to digress to the decision, last year, to award a Peace Prize to Al Gore? We have no axe to grind with the former Vice President, but just what do his views and Cassandra like warnings about global warming have to do with world peace? Even Democrats have to acknowledge (as many do in private conversation) that Mr. Gore was awarded the prize simply because he wasn’t George W. Bush. One suspects that the Nobel Committee in 2009 would have given the award to any of the Democratic Party’s 2008 primary election candidates who won the presidency. It would have been their way of giving us a gold star for voting the way they wanted us to. While President Obama’s intentions may be noble (no pun intended), they certainly represent no real achievement yet. How could they; he was nominated only twelve days following his inauguration.

And that brings us back, once again, to the inherent danger of this particular award when it is used for partisan political purposes. The Nobel Prize is now a way for the Norwegian panel to interfere in American elections where elected European leaders cannot, for diplomatic reasons, comment on elections in another sovereign nation. Just what is the agenda and expectation of these European pseudo-progressives who are shielded behind an aura of false non-partisanship? Could it be to push American policy toward the concept of complete equality among nations . . . sort of a one nation one vote mantra of how global influence should be shared? Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Venezuela, as sovereign nations, all should have an equal voice with America in making decisions on the various danger points facing the world even if they themselves represent the real danger. This is the same recipe for doing nothing to confront evil that almost put the European continent into slavery and which, once again, keeps the United Nations from seriously addressing aggression by Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and their like. Short term commercial interests trump the need to prevent current problems from ballooning into existential threats.

Let us recognize this year’s award for what it is. The Nobel Peace Prize, at least in 2009, was the Committee’s way of complimenting Americans for electing a president who finds it useful to apologize repeatedly for our past actions (saving Europe from Nazis and other fascists and our role in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union aside), emphasizing dialogue with Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela and stiffing our friends (think Columbia, Honduras, Israel, Poland and Czechoslovakia). If the American people are ushered into that way of thinking, we will be following a path that can only lead to the end of American leadership, greatness and exceptionalism as defined over two hundred years ago by the great French historian Alexis de Tocqueville. We believe the consequences for the world would be disastrous.

If the members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee believe that President Obama’s conciliatory demeanor might transform the world’s tyrants into men (and women) of peace and goodwill we might sympathize with their thinking, no matter how wishful, but the next time tyrants confront us we urge the President to take his lessons from Munich rather than Oslo.

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6 responses to “The 2009 Nobel Prize: Even Alfred Nobel Would Have Gasped”

  1. Richard says:

    “If the American people are ushered into that way of thinking, we will be following a path that can only lead to the end of American leadership, greatness and exceptionalism as defined over two hundred years ago by the great French historian Alexis de Tocqueville. We believe the consequences for the world would be disastrous.”

    I would likewise suggest that the cost in human life would be astronomical. If the US does not put on it’s bolder face, those that wish us ill, will certainly endeavor to make that wish come true.

  2. Merle Lask says:

    That was the best commentary I have read about this ridiculous award. Very balanced and fair. But it was tainted when Arafat received it. Why does the press even cover it? I think it’s on the level of Harvard’s Hasty Pudding award.

  3. judy allen says:

    We are so proud of your efforts in providing an intellectual, thoughtful point of view without name calling……which I personally find difficult to do…….

  4. Toma says:

    You give Obama much more deference than he has earned. “well intentioned” has never been typed out on my keyboard, in fact the words have never crossed my mind when writing about Obama. In my opinion, his actions thus far are not well intentioned at all. Just the opposite in fact.

    Good article though, the “Nobel” has lost any prestige it may have ever had.


  5. Robert Myers says:

    Good points, and you were both gentlemanly enough to omit the word “bribe”. If the Nobel Committee thinks they can force Obama to live up to a standard or influence his decisions, then they don’t understand the American Democratic Party. The Nobel Peace Prize is the only thing Europe has to offer that the Democrats consider useful, and they have already given it up. Without anything else of value to offer, Europe will be abandoned just like Afghanistan is about to be, unless they offer it likewise to Nan, Harry and Barney. This is not conciliatory, this is desperation.

  6. Tom Autry says:

    You give Obama more deference than he has earned. “Well intentioned” is a term that has never been typed out on my keyboard when trying to describe the man. In fact it has never come to mind. In my opinion his actions, thus far, have not been well intentioned. Just the opposite in fact.

    I agree, the “Nobel” has squandered any prestige it may have had.


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