A reason to hope, if nothing else
By PAUL HAIST
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Two days before the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Barak Obama, Reuters reporter Wojciech Moskwa filed a story in which he explained that the five men who comprise the Peace Prize selection committee in Oslo were attempting to re-emphasize the prize’s “activist roots.”
Moskwa began his story thusly: “Wanted—a peace maker or rights activist engaged in a current conflict whose influence would benefit greatly from winning the Nobel Peace Prize.”
He quoted Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the International Peace Institute in Oslo. “It’s quite likely this committee will reward somebody who is engaged in current processes,” said Harpviken. “They want the prize to have an impact on things that are about to happen and want to affect events.”
That statement lent perspective to reminders by many on the morning of Oct. 9 when the prize was announced that Obama hadn’t achieved much yet that was tangible or measurable.
Blogs and media outlets everywhere were abuzz with the news and reactions hours before the president made his remarks about receiving the prize.
At 7:56 a.m. here in Portland on the day of the prize, an email arrived from David Bedein of the Israel Resource News Agency in Jerusalem. He said Israel “had reason to be concerned” about Obama receiving the prize.
Quoting Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Bedein wrote, “‘Someone who gets a peace prize should not force-feed Israel with his version of peace,’ going on to say that he hoped that the peace prize would not inspire the president to ‘dictate a peace accord to Israel.’”
Bedein noted that Norway, home to the Nobel Committee,” remains almost the only European nation to recognize, aid and abet the Hamas regime in Gaza, at a time when Norway sanctions boycotts of some Israel companies, and at a time when Norway openly funds movements in Israel that advocate the expulsion of Jewish communities from Judea, Samaria, the Golan and Jerusalem.”
Bedein added, “…for many Israelis, the Norwegian endorsement of peace initiatives of President Obama reads like a kiss of death for Israel.”
Bedein’s and Rivlin’s are not the only perspectives from Israel.
In a letter of congratulation to Obama, Israeli President Shimon Peres said, “Very few leaders if (any) at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact. You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, speaking through negotiator Saeb Erakat, congratulated Obama.
A spokesman for the Hamas terrorist organization was less sanguine. Samir Abu Zuhri joined a worldwide chorus in calling the award premature and said Obama “did not do anything for the Palestinians except make promises (while) …at the same time, he is giving his absolute support for the (Israeli) occupation.”
The Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza was even more pointed. It “shows these prizes are political, not governed by the principles of credibility, values and morals,” said Khaled Al-Batsh in a Reuters report. “Why should Obama be given a peace prize while his country owns the largest nuclear arsenal on earth and his soldiers continue to shed innocent blood in Iraq and Afghanistan?”
When Obama spoke to reporters to acknowledge the prize, he found common ground with many observers who questioned the award. “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize,” said the president.
In this country Republicans agreed with that assessment.
Michael Gerson, who was a speech writer for President George W. Bush, dismissed the award saying that the Nobel Committee “decided to give a ribbon before the race, a trophy for aspiration, a gold star for admirable sentiments.”
On the day of the announcement, Democrats were much less vocal and much of what they did say targeted the Republicans.
Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse told The Washington Post, “The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists—the Taliban and Hamas—this morning in criticizing the president for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.”
The New York Times was out the gate early with a blog summarizing initial world response to the prize. They grouped the responses into four categories: “Couldn’t Have Been a Better Choice,” “That’s Great, But…,” “Deeper Skepticism” and “Absolutely Wrong.”
Times blogger Sharon Otterman kept things in balance by offering approximately equal numbers of perspectives in each category.
By 10:30 on the morning of the award there were about 500 comments posted on the blog and, while there were many that praised the Nobel Committee’s decision, a clear majority at that time questioned the wisdom of the choice.
“Ed of Connecticut” was typical of blog posters who questioned or opposed the choice. “An embarrassment. What on earth where they thinking? This strikes me as nothing more than post hoc Bush bashing.”
Many thought the choice so early in Obama’s administration diminished the prize, while others feared that the prize raised expectations for Obama to unrealistic levels in a difficult world and that however much he may eventually achieve, it will never measure up to the elevated expectations implicit in the prize.
Alfred Nobel stipulated that the prize should be awarded—in the words of his will—“to the person who 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 Obama is short on success as a peace maker yet, I agree with President Peres that Obama’s young presidency has had a significant impact on the world and his leadership appears, at least to many, to offer hope for a better tomorrow.
Finland’s ex-president Maarti Ahtisaari won the Peace Prize last year. He tied Obama’s award to Middle East peace.
“I think now when President Obama has made it clear that he looks for a solution on a two-state basis during his first two years in office, I think this has to be seen as an encouragement,” said Ahtisaari—a positive if not glowing assertion.
In awarding Ahtisaari the prize last year the Nobel Committee cited “his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts. These efforts have contributed to a more peaceful world and to ‘fraternity between nations’ in Alfred Nobel’s spirit.”
If a man of Ahtisaari’s achievements (Google this guy if you want to feel small and ineffectual) approves of Obama receiving the prize, who am I or we to disagree?
There is, however, a significant difference between Ahtisaari’s 30 years of work on behalf of all humanity and Obama’s nine months in office.
Perhaps, in its rekindled “activist” role, the Nobel Committee made its choice in the same hope that Shimon Peres cited in his letter of congratulation.
Now, we and Israel are left to hope that future history will confirm—in the interest of peace—the wisdom of the Nobel Committee, Mr. Obama and those with whom we seek to come to terms.