Friday, October 9, 2009

How Obama Can Earn His Nobel Peace Prize

BROOKLYN, New York -- President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday. It is not entirely clear why he deserved this award. The Nobel Committee seemed to award him the prize for his tone and aspirations rather than any concrete accomplishments.

"It was unavoidable to give the prize to the man who has improved the international climate and emphasized negotiations and dialogue," Thorbjoern Jagland, the chair of the Nobel Committee, said, as quoted in GlobalPost. In effect, he was given the award for not being George W. Bush.

George Packer made a good case for refusing the award, noting on his New Yorker blog, "The prize should be awarded for achievement, not aspiration, and so far Obama’s main achievement has been getting elected President, which is in a different category."

I wholeheartedly agree. He was already elected President of the United States - how much more validation does he need? Will this prize suddenly cause the North Koreans to surrender their nuclear weapons, the Russians to abandon their claimed sphere of influence, or the Palestinians and Israelis to get serious about peace? Certainly not. While it may affirm the Europeans' love affair with Obama, it does little to improve his position or prestige when he gets to the negotiating table.

I will give credit to Obama for staking out one particularly bold position: to rid the world of nuclear weapons. As he has stated, this goal will probably not be achieved either during his presidency or his lifetime. This marks another distinct departure from the policies of the Bush administration, as well as nearly every other administration before it.

George W. Bush did have some accomplishments in the field of nuclear non-proliferation. The nuclear smuggling ring led by Pakistan's A.Q. Khan was broken, and Libya was persuaded to abandon its weapons of mass destruction. But Bush's marks were quite poor overall. The nuclear club has expanded, not shrunk. North Korea is now in possession of the bomb, and Iran continues to make strides toward it. In addition to withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and continuing America's refusal to join the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (in force since 1996), Bush also supported the development and use of tactical nuclear weapons, specifically to deter the nuclear efforts of Iran.

No past president has ever made it his stated goal to make the world free of nuclear weapons. Earlier this year, Philip Taubman described in the New York Times why this goal is so ambitious and daunting, offering this analogy: "To fully grasp the political and military implications, consider what would have been involved had the great powers of the 19th century decided to abolish gunpowder." Perhaps Obama is acting more like Superman in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace than a human president. He can't gather up all the world's fissile material and throw it into the sun, but his goal is admirable, and should he go even part of the way to achieving it, his Nobel Prize will be well deserved.

To mark the president's award, I would like to share with you the 1939 cartoon Peace on Earth. This MGM short directed by Hugh Harman has been incorrectly credited with a Nobel Peace Prize nomination; nonetheless, it offers a noble aspiration of peace, and that is worthy of something, if not the Prize itself.

Finally, if you think that nuclear weapons are not scary things, or if you don't believe that just two decades ago, the world teetered on the brink of utter destruction, this recent news about the Soviet doomsday device - Dr. Strangelove for real - should terrify you. Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece is certainly a powerful piece of anti-nuclear cinema, but if you would like to be scared shitless of atomic warfare, I suggest that you watch the 1964 film Fail-Safe, starring Henry Fonda.

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