Nobel: Stop rewarding aggression

Patrick Miner

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama Oct. 9. Much like in 2007, when Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change received the award, this year’s recipient is entirely undeserving of the honor.
Alfred Nobel states in his will that the Peace Prize should go “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.”
In 2007, when the award went to Gore and the IPCC, I was taken aback by the committee’s apparent lack of memory. When Gore was vice president, he supported the sanctions against Iraq that led to economic ruin and mass undernourishment. According to UNICEF, Iraq’s per capita income dropped from $3,510 in 1989 to $450 in 1996, and estimates on the number of children that died as a result of the economic and social strife range from 200,000 to 500,000.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Gore firmly supported the 1998 bombing of Iraq, which resulted in further Iraqi civilian deaths. As a senator, he was one of the 10 Democrats who voted to fund George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War. Gore’s apparent affection for unnecessary aggression was either ignored or forgotten when he was awarded the prize two years ago.
While the IPCC’s efforts to combat climate change are perhaps noteworthy, Noam Chomsky pointed out in a 2007 interview that the group’s conclusions might not have been “sufficiently alarmist.” Such is the case with Gore’s personal efforts.
Though he held the second most powerful position in the country, he did little to nothing to improve the environmental crisis situation, but upon leaving office – and thereby leaving behind most of his influence – he became very concerned about such problems. He has since accomplished little save earning himself a lot of money from film and book sales, and he continues to boast of his hawkish positions.
This year, the new president has increased troop levels in Afghanistan and broken campaign promises with regard to withdrawing troops from Iraq. Obama has still not announced any timeframe for complete withdrawal from that country. He’s also increased the number of strikes made by drones in Pakistan to levels far beyond anything Bush ever ordered.
Immediately upon entering office, he gave the order to close Guantanamo within a year, but even that ridiculously long timeframe now seems unlikely to be met. Furthermore, Obama has allowed the torture of Guantanamo detainees to continue. According to Reuters, incidents that have taken place under Obama include “beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper, and over-force feeding detainees who are on hunger strike.”
While some consider Obama’s interest in chatting with other countries enough to garner him the Nobel Committee’s top prize, I’m left wondering how permitting torture, continuing the occupation of two nations, and increasing troop levels while escalating the war in Afghanistan are related to the “abolition or reduction of standing armies” or “the holding and promotion of peace congresses” in any way other than as examples of exactly what not to do.
Rewarding warmongers for their empty rhetoric has a cheapening effect on the name “Nobel.” Recipients of the Peace Prize in other years, as well as recipients in the other categories, such as Lawrence graduate Thomas Steitz, who is one of three recipients of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, should not have their achievements cheapened by the Nobel Committee’s inability to find “peace” in a dictionary.
I hope that in years to come they look to the strong women and men who are real leaders – the ones who are struggling everyday to undo the devastation wrought by this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate.