At What Price Peace?

Obama needed the Nobel Peace prize like another hole in the head, because it is effectively a set of virtual handcuffs on a President mired in war and global unrest—and don't his opponents know it

There are likely very few people in our great Western consumer societies who haven’t been given something they wish they could refuse, or give back, or sell on eBay. Any look at the hike in stuff offered on such websites after Thanksgiving and Christmas is testament to the fact that much of the junk we give and are given is neither to our taste nor our life improvement.

How then do you quietly but firmly put a Nobel Peace prize back in the hands of those relatively obscure Norwegians who gave it to you in such good faith? That has surely been the dilemma of the US President since waking up last week to the news of his new laureate status.

Wow, he needed that prize like another hole in the head, and, like many a gift given, it becomes the responsibility of the recipient to deal with it. Only this is not as easy as dispensing with the 34th toaster wedding gift or a set of large glass dogs or other such kitsch. Oh no. This one comes with enormously difficult strings attached.

Since the unexpected award, there’s been a complete media feeding frenzy in this part of the world analyzing every perspective and holding nothing back—from the Right Wing whingers (who are possibly secretly jealous), to the other end of the political spectrum asking, why now?

Why indeed. It would seem the Nobel Committee is dabbling in politics from afar, and has decided what better way to live up to the name of its award than to tie the hands of the very man who the world undoubtedly sees as capable of effecting said peace.

The prize is like a set of virtual handcuffs which fit neatly with the virtual peace Obama is striving for, but has yet to realise in any tangible fashion.

These handcuffs will be sorely strained if the President decides he needs to send 40,000 more troops in to Afghanistan, or can’t exit the other war he is mired in according to the ambitious timeline he set during the presidential campaign.

You see, a peace award to a President with so many possibilities for peace in front of him, but so few runs on the board, was only ever going to make him a target himself.

Sure he wants to get out of Iraq, bring stability to Afghanistan, reduce nuclear weapons, avoid a military strike on Iran, calm down North Korea and oversee a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian mess. But it would be a reasonably safe bet most people want those outcomes, including the Nobel Committee it seems.

It is highly likely then that this award is the Committee’s way of saying don’t you dare send more young soldiers to die in Afghanistan, don’t you dare allow Israel to fire on Iran, or don’t you dare turn a blind eye to galloping Israeli occupation in Palestinian lands.

It is not as if the Norwegian Committee hasn’t given its prestigious award to some very strange recipients in the past—Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres were hardly the arbiters of peace, and Obama is arguably more deserving than any of them after just nine months in office, or, just for not being George W. Bush.

And the prize has gone to plenty of people before peace was actually realised—Desmond Tutu got his 18-carat gold gong and plenty of dosh 10 years before the end of apartheid in South Africa, and Mother Teresa was awarded, but global poverty has in real terms increased despite her works.

For those who say this should have gone to the people who died on the streets of Tehran fighting for democracy, the prize is no longer awarded posthumously, but amongst the democratic fighters still living, their time may come next year as the cut off date for 2009 was February—well before the stolen Iranian election. Uneasily, however, that cut-off date was after Obama had been in office a mere two weeks and that’s just added to the less than peaceful fallout.

Amidst the hours of telly-time and untold column inches has been advice to Obama to explain to the Nobel Committee he just couldn’t accept their award because he hasn’t done anything. That’s garbage if a true consideration of the reassertion of America as a world player and not a world bully is taken into account, and that goes right back to the hope inspired from the beginnings of his campaign for the big job.

Another line of helpful suggestions has been to go and accept the award but dedicate it to the greatest army on the face of the earth—i.e. the American forces who, it seems from this argument’s line, have saved the world many times over. That would be all very well but you can bet the Nobel Committee has heard of My Lai and Abu Ghraib and a few other less savoury incidents, which would have to be selectively dropped from any sweeping hagiography of US troops.

So while the incredulity that the awarding aroused continues pretty much unabated, Obama has to get on with the job of managing his dreams for peace ever mindful that the others whom he beat for the prize—Morgan Tsvangirai, Thich Quang Do, Sima Simar and about 200 others—are quietly trying to get on with promoting peace, democracy and women’s rights without the hoopla or the cash of a prestigious award.

Obama didn’t ask for it. In fact it would be a safe bet he was pretty pissed at being singled out, at least at this stage. Now he has to prove that he is at once worthy of the faith the Nobel Committee has publicly vested in him, and strong enough to do what he believes is right in terms of all the less than peaceful hornets nests he’s inherited.

It is a sorry state of affairs when a President of the United States is put on the back foot because he’s thought to be so eminently capable. At what price peace?