In awarding the Peace Price, the Nobel Committee has gotten it blatantly wrong in the past. Sometimes it failed by omission. Many times it failed to research the complete body of work of the person being honored. Sometimes hope triumphed. And in some small instances, the Prize actually went to all too deserving individuals.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to Barack Obama on Friday represented perhaps a combination of all these past failures. To understand this, one has to re-examine the body of work of President Obama so far, but also the history of the Prize itself and its past winners through the lens of peace and peace-making. 

In 1938, the Prize was awarded to the International Office for Refugees. However the short list for the following year included one Adolf Hitler. Now, while this seems bizarre today with over seventy years of hindsight, the German Fuhrer was greatly popular as an international figure in 1938. He was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1938 and most of the horrendous crimes against humanity for which he is known today were yet to be committed. His desire for continental conquest was well known. So was his racism. Yet the Committee somehow saw him as a peace-loving man worthy of their shortlist.

In 1973, the Peace prize was given to both Henry Kissinger & Le Duc Tho for negotiating an end to the Vietnam War, a war they escalated into Cambodia through Operation Menu and that ended up taking the lives of over 2 million Vietnamese people. Earlier in 1971, the NY Times published the Pentagon Papers that detailed the deception campaign of the Nixon/Kissinger cabal to keep the public uninformed about their war machinations. Whether this history was considered when the Nobel Committee decided on the Prize is anybody’s guess. But as a double dose of irony, on September 11th 1973, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon and the CIA would concoct a coup to overthrow the democratically-elected President of Chile: Salvador Allende. And the co-winner of the Prize, Le Duc Tho would refuse it because he did not believe the end of the war with the US meant peace for his country and continued fighting against the south vietnamese until 1975.

In 1960 the Prize went to Albert Lutuli, the ANC President.

In 1964 the Prize went to Martin Luther King, jr.

However Mahatma Gandhi was short-listed five times in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, 1948, but never won. Yet Yasser Arafat & Menachem Begin won The Prize.

In a final tidbit of historical WTF moments, George W. Bush & Tony Blair were both short-listed for The Prize in 2002. So was Hamid Karzai who the British-Pakistani writer Tariq Ali refers to (jokingly, I am sure) as “The Great Puppet of Kabul.”

So this is the history that gave us this year’s selection of Barack Obama.

The Committee said it was for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” But the obvious reply based on the facts of the last 8 months would be: “He has done nothing of the sort!” In a Q&A that followed the announcement, the choice was clarified as a way of nudging Obama to continue the work he started on nuclear non-proliferation and re-including the US in the community of nations.


 If Obama is working so hard at worldwide peace-making, why was White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs waffling this week trying to explain why Obama did not seem to want to meet…of all people…The Dalai Lama. Amnesty USA even reported that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has decided that China’s human rights record will not top her China agenda. Could all of this dillying and dallying have less to do with peace between China and Tibet and more to do with the $1 trillion dollars the US owes China or the commercial relations that need to be maintained there?

Many have pointed to the recent talks with Iran, the US decision to scrap a European Missile Defense system and the fact that Obama chaired a UN Security Council meeting on Nuclear Non-Proliferation. While those are worthy noises that are a breath of diplomatic fresh air when compared to the idiotic bombast of the previous occupant of the White House, they do not constitute anything worthy of an international prize. It is important to note that Iran has not stopped developing nuclear weapons as a result of anything Obama did or said. On the contrary, because of the recent threats and demands, Iran has actually developed new Uranium enrichment sites. There is also no indication that Russia has reduced its stockpiles of weapons or is prepared to do so because of any action Obama has undertaken either.

The record of the US itself under Obama is still dismal, if peace on earth is the goal. The United States is still occupying two sovereign countries: Iraq and Afghanistan. And one of the first orders Obama issued when his Afghanistan strategy was announced, was to order the deployment of 21,000 new US troops to Afghanistan. And if he is to act on General Stanley McChrystal’s recent request, many more thousands of US soldiers will be shipping out to Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months. Renditions are still taking place. Guantanamo is still open and may not close next year as Obama originally promised. But even if it does close, the Bagram prison in Afghanistan will remain open. And on the same day the Nobel Committee was rewarding Obama, it was announced that the US is preparing a $15 billion military buildup in the Pacific island of Guam.

Some have indicated that Obama’s overtures to the Muslim World have swayed the Nobel Committee. But while Obama has made two speeches in the capitals of two majority-Muslim countries (Turkey and Egypt), he has done nothing to act on any of what he spoke of in the speeches. Netanyahu is still expanding Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory without any fear of US repercussions. Women still can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, a strong US ally. Hamas is still being its violent self. And just as a way of extending more olive branches all around the Middle East, the US has used its position in the UN Human Rights Council to both undermine the Goldstone Commission Report on the Israeli assault on Gaza and force Mahmud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership to defer its adoption.

Finally, to those who say the Nobel Prize is a “down-payment on Obama”, one can just as well say: sometimes down payments can be for purchases that turn out to be worthless.

Maybe one day President Barack Obama will do enough to deserve this prize. We all hope so, given his power as the leader of the so-called Free World. But so far, the amazing promise that drove thousands to fill Grant Park in Chicago on November 4th last year, has only translated into Bush-Lite policies and in the words of one former presidential candidate, “lipstick on a pig.” The Nobel Committee should have spent more time examining the dirty spots on the pig’s back before falling in love with the lipstick.