The path to the Nobel prize sometimes converges with the path to hell: both are paved with good intentions.
In the long history of the prize, it has been given on a number of occasions to people who had nothing to do with peace. The most insulting example of the previous generation was Yasser Arafat, but there were many others, including the Russian Gorbachev, who won the prize after failing to maintain a diminutive version of the Soviet Empire, and the American Henry Kissinger and the North Vietnamese Le Duc Tho, who shared the prize after signing a non-existent peace agreement (Le Duc Tho conceded the honor honestly, whereas Kissinger offered to give up the prize after the agreement collapsed, but was rejected, poor man, and was stuck with the prize).
In other fields Nobel Prizes are given to people with extensive achievements, usually many years after they achieved them. There is historical perspective. There are results. The peace prize is of a different nature. The temptation is large to use it to influence world leaders’ decisions, to encourage them to take a certain course of action, to tie them down.
That is what happens when the influence of Europe, with Norway in it, over questions of war and peace around the world is pathetically negligible. The Nobel Prize is the little that it is prepared to invest so that it might have some influence.
Granting the prize to Obama is a Norwegian joke. Everyone in the world understands that, even those people who rushed to praise the win. Historians in the United States and Europe tried to explain the decision by saying that it was less a salute to Obama’s policies and more a retroactive condemnation of President Bush. Obama won because he is perceived in Europe as being the exact opposite of Bush. Bush believed in the use of force; Obama believes in dialogue. Bush paid Europe no heed; Obama is courting Europe. Bush was perceived as an American in the bad sense of the word: pugnacious, imperious, ignorant and arrogant; Obama is perceived as a European in the good sense of the word: restrained, tolerant, cultured and steeped in values.
None of that has any real bearing on the true state of affairs. Obama is still a beginning president. He most certainly was at the beginning of his term when the list of candidates was closed on February 1, just 12 days after he was sworn into office.
His peace policies have promised a great deal, but still haven’t delivered. The Nobel Prize was given to him, as such, not for achievements but for effort, for trying. That might be okay when you’re dealing with a new pupil in class, but not when the person in question is the president of the United States.
It was fascinating to monitor over the weekend the disagreement that erupted between the two camps in the United States. The American right wing was infuriated.
The extreme right wing perceives Obama as a foreign agent, a traitor, a communist in disguise. Those people consider the prize to be the payback that Europe is giving Obama for his betrayal of America’s values, its courage and its interests.
The radical left wing isn’t pleased either. Its spokespersons are certain that Obama is undeserving of the prize. How can the peace prize be given to a president who is still waging a war on two fronts (and perhaps three, if the talks with Iran should fail). After all, on the very day that they announced the prize, Obama was deliberating over sending another 40,000 American troops to Afghanistan.
Israeli Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said he believed that the prize would force Obama to step up the pressure on Israel. Obama is now going to want to prove that he was deserving of the prize. Historic experience does not lend much credence to Rivlin’s concerns (and the hopes of others). The prize has had a marginal effect on the behavior of people who won it. That has been the case particularly when it comes to the president of the United States. He’s already won his prize.
If the prize does have an impact, it will be on American public opinion-and it is unlikely that that impact is going to be positive. The conflict between Left and Right in America currently is so fraught, so visceral, that any intervention from the outside is only going to make matters worse.
Obama can learn from the two American presidents who won the prize before him. Theodore Roosevelt won the prize because of his successful mediation that ended the Russia-Japan war. When it came to America’s interests, Roosevelt was a firm and combative president. He advised presidents to talks softly but to carry a big stick.
Woodrow Wilson won because of the Versailles Treaty, which collapsed like a house of cards and made room for the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe and to the worst of all wars-World War II.