Sunday, October 11, 2009

...and Mousavi, too

I'm a sucky fake pundit because I often wait to sum up my thoughts on something, and by then the topic has passed me by. However, I do want to "round out" the whole thing on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, and why I believe it is undeserved. I started some thoughts at BMG, but this is a more systemic conclusion.

First of all, I'm in no way blaming any of this on Obama. While arguments abound on whether Obama should have refused this award, I can't fault how he handled this situation. I should also mention that I find it hilarious that the same conservatives who call the Nobel an example of Obama's unseeming friendship with Euro-elites are the same ones cheering the "loss" of the Olympics to Rio (Chicago never had them to lose) the hands of those same Euro-elites.

Secondly, while it is tempting to point out that this is "just an award", pragmatic concerns necessitate remembering that with this award comes cash to the total of some $1.2 million. Many people working toward peace are on shoestring budgets, harassed by an autocratic state. That money can build a lot of peace, if used right.

The key point is this -- anytime somebody wins a Nobel Peace Prize, lots of other nominees lose it. When arguing that Obama deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize, it is insufficient to say that he meets the criteria...Obama should only have won the prize had he met those criteria better than anyone else. That's where the argument that "Obama deserved it" fails. The list of NPP nominees is secret, but for argument's sake let's take the example of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, leader of the nascent democracy movement of Iran (Greg Mortensen or Morgan Tsvangirai work just as well). Using the criteria bandied offered to rationalize Obama's victory, let's see how Obama and Mousavi stack up...

  • "Obama has brought hope to the world". Obama brings hope to the world by not being George W Bush. It is true that America's friends around the world are relieved at Bush's retirement, but that frankly would have happened regardless of who the 44th president was. His ideas would have died with President Hillary Clinton, and even to some extent with President John McCain. In that way, there is nothing inherent and unique in Barack Obama that merits this award. Same for variants of the idea that Obama is bringing peace because people around the world love him so. A lot of that love is for the fact that he isn't Bush, and as for the rest...Boris Yeltsin was well-loved around the world in his day as well.

    As bad as Bush is, he never denied the Holocaust or threatened to incinerate another country. That is who Mousavi is trying to send into retirement. And Mousavi is doing this by taking his life in his hands, not merely running an election campaign. So in terms of "doing more to change the world for the better", I'd have to give Mousavi the edge.

  • "Obama has rallied the youth of his nation and brought energy to the process". Obama's campaign energized the youth of a country, bringing in 5 million new minority voters. Turnout was up 1.5% over the last election. (Not that this is a major impact on the world).

    There are no reliable turnout figures for the 2009 election. However, Mousavi has managed to turn out about a million people in the largest protests in Iran in my lifetime. And unlike Obama's rallies, shooting was a real chance -- and a reality -- at Mousavi's rally. Obama's people voted, Mousavi's people risk their lives. Mousavi again gets the edge.

  • "This is about potential for peace, not what they've achieved" This is hardly worth talking about. I've never head of an Oscar given because the actor's next movie might be great, or a Lasker given because someday a doctor might turn out great research. History's dustbin is filled with people who arrived in office with energy and potential to change the whole game, only to fail to meet that mark -- everyone from Alexander Kerensky to Junichiro Koizumi. Tony Blair became Prime Minister under excitement as intense as Obama's. He was a breath of fresh air for Britain's lurching Conversative foreign policy, and a new hope for the peaceful construction of Europe. Perhaps if John Major had been as loony as Bush, Blair would have won the Peace Prize. (If he'd dispatched Margaret Thatcher, he'd have had an even better chance.) However, nobody had ever claimed Blair should have won the Nobel Prize for being elected.

    As for potential for peace, Ahmadinejad has shared responsibility (the extent is unclear) for a nation that supports terrorism at least in Lebanon, Israel, and Iraq. While I'm not going to paint Mousavi as a saint, his potential as president -- remember, we're told that potential matters, not accomplishment -- his potential as president to reverse Ahmadinejad's hateful policies can set more wrongs right than I would argue Obama. With President Mousavi comes not just hope for a more democratic Iran, but a more democratic Lebanon and Syria as well. A three-fer! Once again, Mousavi rises above.

  • "This award is a call to action" I'm glad that's how Obama accepted the award. It's the best he could have handled it. This call to action means to be involved in the community by helping people out, recycling, and trying to improve civil society. I presume Mousavi would like his supporters to do this, you know, after they overthrow an anti-democratic, medieval regime that is suppressing a proud people. Advantage Mousavi.

There's one last point. One of the most powerful messages of the Nobel Peace Prize is that the world recognized the value of this person, almost named as a "world treasure". And as with ecological or architectural treasures, the world has a vested interest in their well-being. The Dalai Lama and Aum Sung Suu Kyi of Burma are two people whose status as Nobel Laureates has kept them in the eye of the world. Despite Chinese harassment and Burmese intransigence, these two peacebuilders are known figures, not least of all for winning the Nobel Prize. Every autocratic regime has its brave lights fighting for the true peace of freedom (Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe, for example), but can't go the final step of hiding away Kyi in prison or in death because the Nobel Prize confers an almost mythical status to the laureate.

Such status is so essential for people, from Yitzhak Rabin to John Hume to Anwar Sadat who take the chance of angering their communities and rivals with the brave decision to go for peace. If Obama makes strong progress toward peace (something he hasn't much done in Iraq or Afghanistan yet), he will receive a wild-eyed rant from Glenn Beck. If Mousavi makes strong progress, he may well receive a bullet in the head.

A bell can't be unrung, and this prize can't be ungiven. I know some of Obama's most loyal followers think this award is richly deserved, as would be any award given the President. I can't say that Obama emphatically doesn't deserve this, but it is the Mousavis of this world who not only deserve this award, but can use it to do the most good, and produce the most peace.

Congratulations to Barack Obama. As for Mir-Hossein Mousavi, there's always next year -- provided he's still alive.

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