The Nobel Committee’s decision to award President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize calls into question the purpose of this prestigious award. If the prize serves to recognize concrete action and tangible efforts towards peace, the committee failed to adhere to these measures. Yet, if the committee sought to praise intent and catalyze future action, their decision was dead on.
Obama received the prize for his “efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the committee stated. Though I am a staunch Obama supporter and proponent of his policies, even I question the extent to which he deserves this award. He called for reconciled relations with the Muslim world, but has yet to follow up on his Cairo speech. He pledged to close Guantanomo, yet prisoners still reside behind bars there. He advocates nuclear disarmament, yet Iran and North Korea remain threats to global security. And the U.S. continues to be at war in two countries. Though expecting Obama to save the world — literally — in a mere 10 months is ridiculous, honoring him for largely unfinished work is profoundly premature.
Yet, this year’s recipient is not the first of its kind. Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee, compared Obama to Mikhail Gorbachev who received the prize in 1990 in light of perestroika, and Willy Brandt, the former chancellor of West Germany who received the Prize in 1971 for his appeasement policy with Communist Eastern Europe. Jagland suggests that like these European leaders before him, Obama has put the world on the road towards peace, believing that, “It is always a mix of idealism and real politik that can change the world.”
Yet at its core, the committee’s decision reflects political motives. To some extent, Obama received the prize simply for not being George W. Bush. He represents everything the Bush administration did not — multilateral diplomacy, sophistication and humility in his approach to foreign affairs. The five-member committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament voted unanimously in support of Obama and his transformation of the American image. Essentially, though, the committee capitalized on the opportunity to make a political statement, to signal to Obama’s critics that the world is behind him, so they better get on board too.
Yet, in effect, such a move lends itself to perpetual criticism of Obama being an all-talk-no-action politician, one who espouses theatrical ideas of hope and change but fails to follow through. Thus, in some sense, such an award only increases the massive burden Obama already has to fix the world’s problems. Because in reality, everyone — supporters and opponents alike — secretly hopes that he will.
Fundamentally, however, peace should not be a partisan issue. Peace is a universal ideal that all people and political parties should aspire to achieve. Implicitly exploiting the Peace Prize in order to promote Obama and his policies undermines the very premise on which the Nobel Peace Prize was founded.
In defense of the committee’s decision, Jagland asks critics, “Who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world? And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
I beg to differ. In my mind, the prize serves to recognize those unsung heroes, the tireless human rights activists who work around the clock without recognition in the name of peace, political preferences aside. This is not to say that politicians are never worthy candidates for the peace prize. Rather, honoring Obama for his intent to promote peace at expense of others who have made substantial contributions towards peace is unjust. While Obama may be in the limelight, leading a global movement for change, there are countless men and women acting on his words. These individuals deserve to be recognized.
So if not Obama, who should have received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize? My vote was on Greg Mortenson, the closest man can get to pure altruism. Mortenson is the co-founder and executive director of the Central Asia Institute, a non-profit organization that fosters community-based education — especially for girls — in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After a failed attempt at K2, Mortenson was rescued by the people of Korphe, a poor village in the most isolated part of Pakistan. To thank the community for saving his life, Mortenson promised to return to Korphe and build a school for the children. Committed to his word, Mortenson sacrificed everything to raise money for the Korphe school. He even spent several months living in his car, believing that his rent money could be better put to use in Korphe. Since co-founding the CAI in 1996, Mortenson has established 130 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have educated over 51,000 students. These schools are built in the most undeserved regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, often in Taliban-controlled areas where a non-extremist education is not an option and education for girls is forbidden. In providing an alternate option to the Taliban-run schools, Mortenson is fighting the “war on terror” head on, preempting the U.S. nation-building strategy entirely. The biggest threat to global peace and security is an indoctrinated youth: boys and girls who have been denied a balanced education. By targeting the Tablian’s prime source of power — the Muslim youth — Mortenson has increased American and global security at large.
While Obama has spoken to the Muslim world, Mortenson has taken action to combat the key issues that most sabotage Muslim-Western relations. In humbly accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama referred to the honor as a “call for action.” Let’s hope that he learns from Mortenson and follows through on his words, for the sake of world peace and the legitimacy of future Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
Carolyn Witte is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. Wit’s End appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.