Published October 21, 2009
The Norwegian Nobel Committee looked in the mirror, saw the president of the United States, and awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. One is tempted to vary Rainer Maria Rilke (“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other”) and suggest that this was the meeting of two narcissisms. But that, as the late Richard Milhous Nixon might have said, would be wrong. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is sufficiently enamored of its own moral superiority to ascribe its self-regarding virtues to any nominee it wishes — particularly one who will help it flog the political corpse of George W. Bush (see “Gore, Al” and “Carter, Jimmy”).
The astonishing announcement of the Peace Prize — which surprised the president and may have caused him a moment's embarrassment — was a matter of the Scandinavian left projecting what it regards as its superior political morality onto the man who promised “change” and “hope” without specifying the content of either. Still, it seems reasonably clear what the Norwegians imagine that content to be.
The world of the Norwegian Nobel Committee is one which conflict is born from misunderstanding rather than from a clash of interests; thus diplomacy is a therapeutic exercise in which soothing words make for peace. The notion that “peace” might have something to do with creating structures by which conflict is resolved politically — which informed the award of the Peace Prize to George C. Marshall, Nelson Mandela, and Frederik Willem de Klerk — is missing from the Norwegians' view of the world these days (unless, that is, they're giving their award to a failed multilateral institution like the International Atomic Energy Agency). Once upon a time, the Norwegian Nobel Committee also understood the linkage between human rights and peace; hence the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to heroes like Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa, who resisted the communist colossus with the power of moral truth. But that commitment to human rights seems to have become a thing of the past, too. Did the Norwegians know that, a few days before this year's prize was announced, their 2009 awardee had stiffed their 1989 awardee, the Dalai Lama, declining to receive the nonviolent Tibetan leader at the White House for fear of aggravating a Chinese government that proclaims “human rights” a western imperialist imposition? Would it have mattered if they did?
The Norwegian Nobel Committee imagines that the president shares its worldview and, as one of its members said, it wanted to encourage Obama on his chosen path. But what if the path of “hope” and “change” turns out to be a snare and a delusion, because those to be appeased are unappeasable? Suppose the path the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes the president to follow leads to a revival of al-Qaeda terrorism and a nuclear-armed Iran? What if diplomacy-as-therapy leads, not only to a nuclear armed Iran, but to a nuclear-armed Egypt, a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia, nuclear-armed Gulf states — and a devastating nuclear war in the Middle East? Is that the path of moral rectitude and political wisdom? What will the Norwegian Nobel Committee see when it looks in the mirror the day after Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem, or Tehran, or Mecca, or Cairo, or Riyadh (or all of the above) is a smoldering, radioactive ruin?
The president has a golden opportunity to do something about this dangerous and willful Euro-naivete when he accepts the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in December. He could accept it in the name of a United States committed to global leadership of the sort that saved Europe from its follies three times in the 20th century. He could use the global bully pulpit to tell President Ahmadinejad and the mullahs of Iran that their vicious regime will not be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. He could call on the Chinese government, and tinpot dictators like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, to recognize that there is no peace without human rights.
If he does, the Norwegian Nobel Committee may well faint en masse; but the president will have taken a giant step toward earning his Peace Prize.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.