Obama, the Prize and Political Theater

by Bruce S. Thornton

FrontPage Magazine

Giving Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, after a mere nine months in office and no foreign policy achievements whatsoever, confirms that the prize is a bit of political theater in which those Americans who put the world’s interests ahead of their own country’s will play the starring role.

Indeed, the European love-fest for our President clearly derives from a recognition that unlike the despised George Bush, who more often than not looked to America’s interests and acted vigorously to defend them, Obama will defer to the whole world, eager more for applause and approval than for keeping America strong. That’s why so far we haven’t seen any of the foreign policy boons we were told would follow the rejection of the unilateralist cowboy Bush in favor of the apostle of “engagement” willing to talk no matter how thuggish or murderous the regime. Yet despite groveling in Cairo, shaking hands with Chavez, making nice with Cuba, basking in the adoration of Europeans, selling out Czechoslovakia and Poland to curry favor with Russia, and sending diplomatic billets doux to the mullahs in Iran, Obama has nothing to show for his efforts.

In fact, as the Weekly Standard put it, taking no for an answer is now Obama’s “presidential trademark.” Obama asks and asks, but always gets the same answer. The International Olympic Committee (no to games in Chicago), Israel (no to a settlement freeze), Mahmoud Abbas (no to talks with Israel), King Abdullah (no to Saudi friendly gesture to Israel), our NATO allies (no to more troops for Afghanistan) a government official in Scotland (no to stopping the release of the Lockerbie bomber), Fidel Castro (no to loosening his dictatorial control), Honduras (no to taking back its deposed president), Russia (no to anti-missile batteries in Eastern Europe and meaningful sanctions on Iran) — for all the love the world has showered on Obama, national self-interest still determines the behavior of nations, just as it did when George Bush was President.

But of course, these days the Nobel Prize isn’t about achievement, but rather anti-American politics. Forgive me for repeating what I wrote when the fatuous Al Gore won the prize in 2007: “And now has come the global imprimatur of Western self-loathing, Bush hatred, and anti-Americanism, the Orwellian named Nobel Peace Prize. Jimmy Carter, who hasn’t met a dictator whose boots he won’t lick, got his in 2002 during the run-up to the Iraq war, right after he scolded the President as a warmonger. Mohammed El Baradei — he of the impotent International Atomic Energy agency, another Bush-scolder whose ‘diplomacy’ has accomplished nothing other than giving the Iranian mullahs more time to get the bomb — got one too in 2005. And let’s not forget the most shameless Nobel of all, the one given in 1994 to Yasser Arafat, the corrupt thug with Israeli, American, European, and Arab blood up to his elbows. How anyone could feel proud being in that company defies comprehension.”

Oppose America or chastise the West and you’re in line for a Peace Prize. Remember Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan peasant whose autobiography detailing the horrors inflicted on Indians by the U.S.-backed military regime turned out to be a European leftist’s fantasy? Of course she got her prize, in 1992. Or how about giving Mikhail Gorbachev a prize in 1990 while ignoring Ronald Reagan, the true architect of the Evil Empire’s demise? Giving Gorbachev the prize is like rewarding someone for running out of a burning house instead of sticking around to redecorate.

But the Nobel Peace Prize commemorates more than anti-Americanism or leftist politics. For years, it has been the trophy bestowed on received wisdom and stale ideas. And the most pernicious of such ideas has been the idealistic internationalism that for over a century has fooled the West into thinking that international law, trans-national organizations, and diplomatic “engagement” could replace power politics, national self-interest, and the use of force to create order and deter aggression. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson won the prize for creating the League of Nations, and for the next three years, the Prize was awarded to people connected with the League. It took only four years, however, for the League to be exposed as what Churchill later would call a “cockpit in the tower of Babel.” In 1923, Mussolini bombed the Greek island of Corfu, and despite being blameless, Greece was made to pay Italy reparations as the price of Italian withdrawal. Even the Secretary General of the League knew it had been exposed as a toothless sham: “[T]his challenge has brought into question the fundamental principles which lie at the root of the public law of the new world order established by the League.”

In 1926, the Prize went to Aristide Briand, the French Prime Minister who the previous year signed the Locarno Treaty along with England, Italy, Belgium, and Germany. (England’s Austen Chamberlain won in 1925 for signing Locarno). This treaty was celebrated as the end of the bad blood and mischief caused by the supposedly unjust and vengeful Versailles Treaty, and the welcoming of Germany back into the international community. It was wildly celebrated as the beginning of a new age of prosperity and peace. In reality, it facilitated Germany’s rearmament and return to dominance, England’s serial appeasement of those efforts, and France’s withdrawal into the false comfort of the Maginot Line. It wasn’t long before the emptiness of the treaty was clear to all, and the praise of it became known as “Locarney-Blarney.”

American Frank B. Kellogg, Secretary of State, won in 1929 for co-authoring, along with Aristide Briand, the Kellogg-Briand Pact the previous year. By the terms of this agreement, the contracting parties “condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another,” and “agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts . . . shall never be sought except by pacific means.” It was signed by 49 nations, including the future Axis powers Germany, Italy, and Japan. Its hollowness was exposed a mere three years later when Japan invaded Manchuria — an act of brutal aggression also met with feeble bluster and empty threats on the part of the League of Nations.

But the anti-Americanism and idealistic internationalism the Nobel Prize rewards are two sides of the same coin. When America subordinates its interests to those of the “world community” and organs such as the United Nations or the International Court of Justice, then we are liked and praised. Hence Obama’s prize was given “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” as the Nobel committee put it, apparently unconcerned that those “efforts” have produced no results. But when we pursue our interests as we citizens determine them through our political process, then we are demonized, for the simple reason that the interests of states do not always harmonize. No amount of diplomatic chatter and negotiation will alter that reality, or the fact that a state as dominant as the U.S. now will have interests and obligations radically different from those of weaker states, in whose own interests it will be to chip away at that dominance.

Rather than preening over the Nobel Prize, then, and continuing to seek the approval of foreign politicians who have no qualms about pursuing their countries’ interests, our president should follow the example of the Cynic philosopher Antisthenes: “States, said he, are doomed when they are unable to distinguish good men from bad. Once, when he was applauded by rascals, he remarked, ‘I am horribly afraid I have done something wrong.’”

©2009 Bruce S. Thornton

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