Nineteen times in the past 108 years there was no winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. This includes the First and Second World Wars, when it was obviously impossible to present such an award, as well as other years when no suitable candidate was apparent. This should have been one of those years.
Barack Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize is hasty, incongruous and an embarrassment to all involved. Its only function appears to be the foisting of hypocritical European ideals onto American politics. As such, we could have done perfectly well without it.
This magazine is not about to quibble with the notion that Obama might one day deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. He is a big thinker with a positive outlook and a magnetic personality. In his first year in office he has made impressive speeches on important issues including nuclear disarmament, rapprochement between the Muslim world and the West, Middle East peace and the environment. But these remain plans, not accomplishments.
It seems obvious that the Nobel Peace Prize committee in Oslo, Norway, was attracted by the style of Obama’s objectives rather than any substantive results. In particular, Obama has embraced the multilateral approach so beloved by European politicians and bureaucrats. And he has rejected the Bush doctrine, in which America under former U.S. President George W. Bush explicitly furthered its own objectives in the face of considerable European outrage.
But there ought to be more to winning a Nobel Peace Prize than pleasing European sensibilities. And it is not even clear such efforts are of an advantage to the world at large.
Consider Afghanistan. As an exercise in practical multilateralism, the NATO campaign in that country has been a disaster. Most of the heavy lifting to date has been done by the U.S., Britain and Canada. Germany may have more troops on the ground than Canada, but they’re in the less dangerous northern region. France and Italy continue to dither on their dedication to the mission. Obama’s inability to secure any large new troop commitments from his NATO allies means that if the war in Afghanistan is going to be won, it will be up to America alone.
Currently Obama is pondering his options in that regard. U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior military commander in Afghanistan, has laid out a clear plan to add 40,000 troops and engage in a full-scale counter-insurgency campaign to bring the country back from the brink of chaos. But Obama’s tepid response suggests a different course of action may be in the works. Which suggests a grim future for Afghanistan.
The situation shows that Europe’s fascination with multilateralism is largely fictitious. Group efforts are fine, so long as they don’t involve any great pain for Europe (viz. Kyoto). But when the choices are difficult, it is America that is expected to do the hard work. Now it appears the lure of multilateralism may have robbed Obama of the conviction to go it alone.
It’s not a recipe for world peace, however hopeful you may be.