Wednesday, October 14, 2009

That Nobel Prize

Peace is more than a state of warlessness—a state, it should be noted, the world has never known. It is, as importantly, a process and an attitude.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has conferred the Peace Prize on 97 individuals and 20 organizations. In only three instances was it awarded to individuals who were actually involved in the direct brokering of peace accords between nations.

Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 for his successful mediation of an end to the Russo-Japanese war and other contributions. Henry Kissinger was honored in 1973 for his work on the Paris agreement that led to the final cease-fire in Vietnam and the withdrawal of American forces. And Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin shared the prize in 1978 for the Camp David Agreement, which led to a negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel. (Despite the persistence of animosity, hostility, and bloodshed between Israel and its neighbors, that country and Egypt remain—after a fashion—at peace with one another.)

Some winners have helped to reduce tensions and bloodshed within their nations. The Committee honored Nelson Mandela and Frederick Willem de Clerk in 1993 for terminating the apartheid regime in South Africa, and John Hume and David Trimble for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

But, mostly, the prize has historically been awarded to people and institutions who have worked toward the process of conflict resolution and aided or inspired humanitarian efforts. The International Committee of the Red Cross has won three times, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, twice.

Of all the Nobel prizes, the Peace Prize is generally the most controversial. Were there, in each year, an individual or organization conspicuously responsible for bringing peace to some corner of the world, there would likely be no controversy; the Prize would be a slam-dunk. Sadly, that has seldom happened, but happily there are always folks grinding away at the process, forcing attitudes and postures to change, making contributions. They might work for decades, on their own initiative, with little recognition. Others might just be at the right place when history comes to call. In every case, though, they are—more than anything—an inspiration to others.

Geir Lundestad, the Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, has said that President Barack Obama will receive the honor this year for his creation of a new climate in international politics. The cable tv political bloviators—and the Chairman of the Republican Party—think the prize is pretty much a joke; that Obama is undeserving, the prize diminished by his selection, and the award no more than a slap at former President Bush and evidence of an international socialist conspiracy at work.

President Obama richly deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Even before taking office, he revived the world’s long-dormant sense of hope for peace and positive change. People around the globe see him as a transformative figure and are inspired by his message of optimism, his call for mutual respect, and his promise of progress. They wear Obama t-shirts in Udaipur these days, and gave this American visitor high-fives in Delhi last December as they grinned and shouted, “Obama! Obama!”

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama convinced the majority of American voters to choose peace and to reject the previous administration’s policies of hostility and confrontation; to vote for rationality and against rigidity and blind ideology; to support a foreign policy based on respect, rather than arrogance; and to believe, once again, that it’s okay to look after one another--here at home and around the world.

None of the above, none of the genuine feelings of so many citizens of the world, is welcome news to those who reflexively oppose the President no matter what he does or tries to do or what honors or endorsements he receives. Nothing in the revitalized aspirations of many millions around the world will reverse the hostility of those who hope and pray for our President to fail (as though his failures would not be our own), who are irreversibly angry about his election victory, and who still can’t believe that most American voters don’t agree with them.

Those Americans should get over it, and get with the program—or get out of the way.

Rachel Maddow concluded an excellent MSNBC broadcast on the matter saying, “The American president just won the Nobel Peace Prize—by any reasonable measure, all Americans should be proud.”