Friday, October 09, 2009

An undeserved prize

Why the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama is a farcical decision.

In a farcical decision, the Nobel Committee (consisting of Norwegian legislators) awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to US president Barack Obama. The reason offered was that Barack Obama's message of "change" and emphasis on various international issues - multilateralism, climate change, diplomacy and non-profileration were in conformity with the Nobel awarding committee's views. That only the message and the appeal of Obama have been considered for the Peace Prize and not the substantive actions (which have consistently belied and defied both Obama's message and his supporters' hope), is what fills one full of angst at the decision.

Consider this - Alfred Nobel, the institutioner of the prize said this in his bequeathing will, the Nobel Peace Prize shall "go the person who shall have done the most or the best work forfraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." Barack Obama has surely done nothing in that regard ever since he has got to power. Despite promising an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he has only ordered a timed withdrawal stretching to 2010 and which includes the proposal of keeping a "reserve force" permanently stationed in the colonised country. He has also shifted and armed forces to Afghanistan dramatically escalating the conflict and inflicting more civilian casualties in his tenure in the country than even what the arch-imperialist George W. Bush allowed under his last year of rule.

His piecemeal gestures toward peace and fraternity have been exactly that - piecemeal. Despite a well regarded speech directed to the "Muslim world", the Obama administration's policies in west Asia are cut from the same imperialist mould of the previous administrations. Barack Obama was deafeningly silent as the President-nominee when Israel pounded Gaza brazenly killing thousands of Palestinians defying every rule in the international book. Apparently the Nobel committee made a nomination cut off date for February 1 (merely a fortnight after Obama assumed power as the president). Obama's silence during the Israeli carnage on Gaza should have been factored into the nomination calls atleast, but surely that was not to be.

Obama later called for halts to fresh settlements by the Israelis in the Gaza strip, only for the Israeli prime minister to ignore the call and proceed with the same, without a stout response by the US president beyond stated positions. He has made pithy remarks about loosening of the blockade by the Israelis on Gaza, but has stopped short of condemning Israeli action or make it responsive to international censure, especially after South African jurist Robert Goldstone submitted an incriminating report against Israel to the United National Human Rights Council, calling for further investigations and possible International Criminal Court proceedings against the country. In other words, Obama has stayed true to the calling card of his presidency - continue rhetoric of change/action, but do nothing palpably actionable about it.

Obama even went one step ahead of the Bush administration by establishing new military bases in Colombia to rake up a geopolitical conflict in the Latin American region which is seeing an unprecedented anti-imperialist democratic sweep in positions of power. He did articulate a different response to the expected Bush one, during the Honduran military coup, when he joined other Latin American leaders in condemning it and recognising ousted president Jose Manuel Zelaya as the genuine ruler of the country. But when it came to actionable work on putting pressure against the Honduran coup leaders to drop out of power, the Obama administration pursued his trademark dilly-dallying approach; it refused to term the Honduran coup a "military one" (what else could it be, when an incumbent president is frisked in his pajamas at gunpoint and taken out of the country?). The Obama administration did effect a piecemeal cut in aid to the Honduran government, but also tried to broker a settlement that provided amnesty and continuation in legislature for some of the coup's chief protagonists. Is this what the Nobel Peace Committee expected out of its winner when it awarded him the prize?

Obama's much touted first executive decision was to order a closure of the illegal detention centres perpetrating torture and human right violations in Guantanamo Bay (occupied by the US in Cuba on a dubious lease). But a few months later, it was known that vicious human rights violations and illegal detentions persisted in the centres and because Congress defied an early closure, the centres would remain till early 2010 (without specifying when they will be closed definitely). Yet another case of dilly-dallying by the president who promised decisive hope and was elected by a surge of people expecting the same after years of neoconservative rule that devastated the American economy, triggered a global financial crisis and recession and organised invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama's saving grace has been his genuine rhetoric on actions regarding climate change. Both domestically, where he has attempted to give a boost to renewable and environmental friendly technologies (coupling them with new "green" jobs) and internationally, where he has acknowledged the difficulties in an global response to climate change - Obama's actions have been sincere. But this saving grace does not take away from the many vices that have persisted in his administration's actions and that have threatened to keep the world in a permanent state of danger. And we are not even getting into some of the dubious domestic policy decisions made by the Obama adminstration.

The Nobel Peace Committee's other reasoning is that it wants to encourage Obama to actionise his rhetoric and that this award would help in the same. This writer's guess is that the reasoning is misplaced, for the award would only add to the Obama mystique that thrives high on rhetoric and less on actions. Obama would enthrall the world with another reverberating speech if he accepts the Prize and arrives in Oslo to receive the same in December and thats all there will be to it.

Crossposted from

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