Sunday, October 11, 2009
Johan Galtung’s view from Europe: The Nobel Peace Prize
“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.”
The Nobel Peace Prize
By Johan Galtung - 12 October 2009
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.
Well stated. Howard Zinn, also offered a true assessment, "Nobel Prize for Promise" on Truthout.org. The problem is that Obama did not make the correct administrative and cabinet appointments in order to accomplish his "promise". He can start with firing the majority of his selections.
It seems to me that those who feel like the award this year was "right or wrong" also seem to have a similarly over-simplified view of the world -- which is probably a consequence of the lack of nuance in American political discourse and 8 years of right/wrong-good/bad instant gratification mentality of Bush II. A mentality that does not promote lasting peace.
But the opinion of this blog entry is of European origin.
Maybe you have it wrong all along, and that the Nobel Prize SHOULD be awarded for ACCOMPLISHMENT.
It shouldn't be awarded with the idea that the winner should now "fill in the blanks" with achievements.
Yes, a European who extensively covers American politics. My comment did not deny that. And of course, your comment only further proves up my point about people who over-simply and look at the world in terms of good-bad/right-wrong.
Looking at a lot of the individuals who have received the award over the years, they did not receive it in retirement but in the middle of their careers. Obama is in the middle of his career. He didn't just start his work in society nine months ago -- more like 25 years ago. I think the meaning of the award this year is complex and not easily understood in the sound-bite isms that stir from the perspective of good-bad/right-wrong.
I don't buy it. His career to-date is less than stellar, not even completing 1 term as jr senator.
He was elected because he wasn't Bush and wasn't "real old" with Palin a heart-beat away from the Presidency.
The "least worst" candidate who delivers speeches written by others in a vibrant manner...but with no follow-through yet.
Time will tell. I'm sure this Nobel thing won't go away. It will be revisited after his 2nd, 3rd and 4th year. I doubt he will have a second term.
I believe history will show that the Nobel committee blew it this time. I can only imagine who the other nominees were...must have been a real thin crowd.
Actually I think there were some pretty good candidates. I'm not sure if I read the list somewhere on the web or listened to it on a podcast (possibly Danny Schecter interviewing Ralph Nader last Thursday on progressiveradio.org, but I'm not sure).
That's been part of the debate from the left -- that there were others clearly deserving of the peace prize.
@Larry. I agree with you, there were other more deserving of the peace prize this year in my mind -- both those nominated and those not. However, I don't believe that the conclusions drawn by other commentators that it makes the award to Obama "wrong", etc., is warranted. It assumes an over-simplified view of politics, the world and the peace process and it return us to the war-making mentality of good-bad/right-wrong and instant gratification that characterized Bush II.
I must be missing the nuance wherein not giving the prize to the most deserving person isn't wrong.
A second question is how does giving it to a less-than-completely deserving one somehow keep us from returning to a war-making mentality?
BTW - your touted new peace prize winner just increased troops to the war zone and started the ball rolling for a massive 53 ton bunker busting bomb whose purpose is to blow up Iran's underground nuke facility, if he deems necessary. He obviously deems it a viable potential action.
We will expend all military effort to enforce the "pax Americana" on the middle east! Give 'em another prize!
Let me add what I just heard on Democracy Now -- from their website:
Afghan War Troop Escalation Tops 34,000
The Washington Post is reporting the size of the Obama administration’s troop increase in Afghanistan is greater than previously disclosed. The White House is sending an additional 13,000 troops on top of the 21,000 announced earlier this year. Most of the troops are said to play a support role, with positions including engineers, medical personnel, intelligence experts and military police. The buildup has left the US with more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than during the height of the Bush administration’s troop surge in Iraq.
I was also thinking of Jon Van Dyke's talk the other night (linked in another article here) about illegal wars. So someone violates the UN charter and gets a peace prize? Of course, Kissenger is still at large also...
How to Win the Nobel Peace Prize Share
Nominations for potential winners of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ended on February 1. The president took office only 12 days earlier on January 20.
Let’s take a look at the president’s first 12 days in the White House according to his public schedule to see what he did to deserve a Nobel Peace Prize:
January 20: Sworn in as president. Went to a parade. Partied.
January 21: Asked bureaucrats to re-write guidelines for information requests. Held an “open house” party at the White House.
January 22: Signed Executive Orders: Executive Branch workers to take ethics pledge; re-affirmed Army Field Manual techniques for interrogations; expressed desire to close Gitmo (how’s that working out?)
January 23: Ordered the release of federal funding to pay for abortions in foreign countries. Lunch with Joe Biden; met with Tim Geithner.
January 24: Budget meeting with economic team.
January 25: Skipped church.
January 26: Gave speech about jobs and energy. Met with Hillary Clinton. Attended Geithner's swearing in ceremony.
January 27: Met with Republicans. Spoke at a clock tower in Ohio.
January 28: Economic meetings in the morning, met with Defense secretary in the afternoon.
January 29: Signed Ledbetter Bill overturning Supreme Court decision on lawsuits over wages. Party in the State Room. Met with Biden.
January 30: Met economic advisers. Gave speech on Middle Class Working Families Task Force. Met with senior enlisted military officials.
January 31: Took the day off.
February 1: Skipped church. Threw a Super Bowl party.
So there you have it. The short path to the Nobel Peace Prize: Party, go to meetings, skip church, release federal funding to pay for abortions in foreign countries, party some more.
I have to admit Anonymous I'm only responding to you because I'm enjoying our game here but if you don't see it that way, let me know and I'll restrain myself.
You assume his career started on January 20. I didn't see that in the committee's press release. Care to share where you got such an idea?
HIs presidency started 1/20. His career started earlier and was very unremarkable by Nobel standards. He accomplished nothing. Even his congress voting record was mostly "present"...not "yes" or "no".
I'll not be convinced that he's worth anything...the presidency nor the Nobel Prize...until he ACCOMPLISHES some big things.
And merely being elected the first black prez doesn't count.