Obama Peace Prize: Three Views

November 1, 2009

Nobel_analysisFred Miller —

Regional Peace Action Organizer

I think we can do better than to carp about the Nobel Committee and Obama. Let’s assume that the Committee has picked exactly the right guy. What’s that mean? It means he’s going to take bold and daring strides over the next three years, working to convince the nation to turn American militarism around, end nuclear weapons, and show the world how powerful active peacemaking can be.

It also means he’ll face failure and collapse unless he has serious public support. He’ll be a laughingstock for the militarists and a bad memory for progressives. A supporter of top-down models of social change can celebrate the Great Hero Who Changed History Alone, but for those of us who believe that peace and justice come from, and live, in the beloved community, it’s the community that creates a culture of justice and a world of peace.

In its half century of existence, Peace Action has never won a Nobel. That doesn’t bother me. We also haven’t spread the notion of peace through justice, respect and the power of nonviolent social change, [successfully enough] to make it the common commitment of most Americans. That does bother me, more than who wins what prize. Time I spend criticizing the Nobel Committee’s choice is time I’m not spreading the word and doing the work.Φ

International Peace Bureau

(Geneva, Switzerland)

The International Peace Bureau expressed concern at the announcement of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize since it fails to respect the intentions expressed by Alfred Nobel in his will. Nobel wrote that the Peace Prize is to go to whoever “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”.

While congratulating the U.S. President on this highest of global awards – notably for having restored hope to millions concerned about the state of the planet – the organization raised numerous questions about the choice. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee shows very little respect for the intentions behind the Prize,” said Tomas Magnusson, IPB President. “Nobel was explicit in his intention to support people and initiatives in need of the prize money to advance their peace work.”

Obama’s achievements are so far very mixed. Despite his positive steps to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and close Guantanamo, Obama committed himself even before he was elected President to increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and just a few days ago refused to consider withdrawal. U.S. drones are still bombing villages in Northwest Pakistan in the hope of eliminating Al Qaeda militants. Eight years on from 9-11, the world’s military superpower remains — together with its NATO allies — bogged down in a bloody and controversial conflict.

Furthermore, the first military budget passed under Obama’s administration is the largest in history — $534 billion (plus billions more for ongoing war operations). This can scarcely be considered a contribution to ‘the reduction in standing armies’ stipulated in Nobel’s will.

It is of course true that the arrival of the new team at the White House has transformed the prevailing mood in international relations and put an end to the unilateralism of the Bush years. Obama’s Prague speech, the subsequent negotiations with the Russians and the abandonment of the Missile Defense plans for Eastern Europe have invigorated efforts towards nuclear disarmament. His efforts to reach out to Muslim nations and communities are helping soften some of the sharp antagonisms between the Islamic world and the West.

However we have seen little real progress in the past year in resolving the Iranian and North Korean nuclear crises; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still desperately stuck; and Obama has not yet overcome opposition in his own country to even elementary disarmament measures such as the Comprehensive Test Ban or the very necessary radical steps on climate change. Naturally, IPB shares the hope of the Nobel Committee that the Prize will strengthen him in his efforts.

On balance it is perhaps too early for this particular Nobel Peace Prize. “Obama will no doubt make a brilliant Nobel speech,” commented Tomas Magnusson. “But it would have been wiser to wait for some more concrete results before greeting him as one of Nobel’s ‘champions of peace.’ Meanwhile there are hundreds of outstanding individuals and peace organizations all over the world for whom the award of the Nobel Peace Prize would have massively boosted their reputation and prospects. For them this is an opportunity lost.”

The International Peace Bureau is dedicated to the vision of a World Without War. We are a Nobel Peace Laureate (1910), and over the years 13 of our officers have been recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Our 300 member organizations in 70 countries, and individual members, form a global network which brings together expertise and campaigning experience in a common cause. Our main programme centres on Sustainable Disarmament for Sustainable Development. We welcome your participation. http://www.ipb.org. Φ

Filmmaker Michael Moore

Dear President Obama,michaelmoore

How outstanding that you’ve been recognized today as a man of peace. Your swift, early pronouncements – you will close Guantanamo, you will bring the troops home from Iraq, you want a nuclear weapon-free world, you admitted to the Iranians that we overthrew their democratically-elected president in 1953, you made that great speech to the Islamic world in Cairo, you’ve eliminated that useless term “The War on Terror,” you’ve put an end to torture – these have all made us and the rest of the world feel a bit more safe considering the disaster of the past eight years. In eight months you have done an about face and taken this country in a much more sane direction.

But…

The irony that you have been awarded this prize on the 2nd day of the ninth year of our War in Afghanistan is not lost on anyone. You are truly at a crossroads now. You can listen to the generals and expand the war (only to result in a far-too-predictable defeat) or you can declare Bush’s Wars over, and bring all the troops home. Now. That’s what a true man of peace would do.

There is nothing wrong with you doing what the last guy failed to do – capture the man or men responsible for the mass murder of 3,000 people on 9/11. But you cannot do that with tanks and troops. You are pursuing a criminal, not an army. You do not use a stick of dynamite to get rid of a mouse.

The Taliban is another matter. That is a problem for the people of Afghanistan to resolve – just as we did in 1776, the French did in 1789, the Cubans did in 1959, the Nicaraguans did in 1979 and the people of East Berlin did in 1989. One thing is certain through all revolutions by people who wish to be free – they ultimately have to bring about that freedom themselves. Others can be supportive, but freedom can not be delivered from the front seat of someone else’s Humvee.

You have to end our involvement in Afghanistan now. If you don’t, you’ll have no choice but to return the prize to Oslo.

P.S. Your opposition has spent the morning attacking you for bringing such good will to this country. Why do they hate America so much? I get the feeling that if you found the cure for cancer this afternoon they’d be denouncing you for destroying free enterprise because cancer centers would have to close. There are those who say you’ve done nothing yet to deserve this award. As far as I’m concerned, the very fact that you’ve offered to walk into the minefield of hate and try to undo the irreparable damage the last president did is not only appreciated by me and millions of others, it is also an act of true bravery. That’s why you got the prize. The whole world is depending on the U.S. – and you – to literally save this planet. Let’s not let them down.Φ

–Michael Moore, Filmmaker and Author

[Editor’s Note: See also “Another Nobel Controversy” in the SMART Stuff section of this PeaceWorker.]

Photo: acthejournalist.com/ .

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