Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nobel Ironies

Well, someone has finally come out with a suggestion for an alternate 2009 Peace Prize recipient -- the Washington Post editorialized that the prize should have gone to Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman killed during the Iranian uprising.

They seemed to forget that Nobels are not awarded posthumously.

Not to mention the fact that she died after the nominations closed.

Thing is, this suggestion would bring up the same objections as the Obama award -- it would not be a prize for accomplishment. Rather bizarre, especially because the editorial starts out by complaining that Obama's award was supposedly all prospective, not for any actual accomplishments.

I think that's clearly wrong -- there are concrete accomplishments to point to. Mark Kleiman gave a good summary of them.

Others make a more reasonable argument -- that the accomplishments aren't numerous enough yet, and that the award would be more fitting later. But it seems to me that these awards often go to works in progress. Human rights in Burma, ending apartheid, peace in the Middle East, fighting famine, ending global warming -- all of these causes were recognized by Peace Prizes long before the goals had been accomplished (indeed, most of them still haven't been accomplished). Still others complain that the changes haven't come as quickly or as sweepingly as they should have. I have a lot of sympathy for that viewpoint, but we have to remember that we aren't a dictatorship -- and sometimes leaders have to recognize limits on their powers.

These objections are quite different from the unhinged craziness coming from the right, which is nothing less than we should expect from them.

But still they are a bit surprising coming from the center and the left. I don't recall such complaints when Gore shared the Peace Prize, and that award was just as "aspirational", if not more so, than Obama's.

I think Obama's award is being held to a higher standard than previous Peace Prize awards. And that's sad.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Peace Prize Premature?

I think criticisms that the Peace Prize for Obama is coming too soon don't take into account the committee's own standards. See especially the highlighted bit. They're both rewarding him for turning the aircraft carrier and trying to make it easier for him to complete the turn.

And I think they're also rewarding the risks he took. A few international rebuffs could have seriously damaged his presidency, but he took the risk that they might happen anyway. I can't believe that the committee didn't take that into account.

Taken from (emphasis added):
The Nobel Peace Prize: From Peace Negotiations to Human Rights
Francis Sejersted
Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Commitee, 1991-1999
26 April 2001

I have cited the general clause in Nobel's will saying that the prizes should be given to those who "in the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit on makind." With regard to the Peace Prize, Nobel defined this as having "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." The most difficult stipulation to live up to has undoubtedly been "in the preceding year." This is now understood to indicate the most recent contributions in the various cultural fields to which the will refers. Where the Peace Prize is concerned, the wording has been seen as opening up opportunities to engage in processes which have not yet reached a conclusion, but where there has been clear evidence of progress, as in the democratisation process in South Africa or the peace process in the Middle East, for which the Peace Prizes were awarded in 1993 and 1994. The Prize awarded in 1998 to John Hume and David Trimble of Northern Ireland can be seen in the same light. The Prize, in other words, is not only for past achievement, although that is the most important criterion. The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account. Among the reasons for adding this as a criterion is the obvious point that Nobel wanted the Prize to have political effects. Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act – which is also the reason why the choices so often stir up controversy.