DOES THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE MAKE OBAMA A WINNER?

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee has not done either President Obama or itself any favours by awarding him the Peace Prize. It’s an award for promise rather than achievement. Read the citation and it sounds pretty much like saying, ‘We award the prize to the most popular man in the world because we like his views.’

The risk for Obama in this is that he is being set up for failure. Let’s face it, his June speech in Cairo on the Middle East was absolutely brilliant but he faces mountainous problems both at home and in the region before there is a real likelihood of success.

• On Israel-Palestine, neither of the parties is where Obama would need them to be in order to facilitate progress towards a final settlement. Indeed, “settlement” – there’s a word to conjure with. Until Obama can make his will prevail over that of the Israeli government on settlements, the path to a settlement is hard to see.
• In Iraq, fighting continues and escalated over the summer and his plan to withdraw US troops is not the same as either planning for peace in that country or actually achieving it.
• If Iran continues along its nuclear path the US will face some pretty hard choices and even if military action looks less likely from an Obama than a Bush adminsitration, it has signally not been ruled out.

Outside the region in Afghanistan, there will not be cuts in US forces, we’re told, so the choice is between steady state and increased numbers. Which doesn’t seem to betoken the achievement of peace any time soon.

On nuclear weapons, which the citation particularly emphasises, the vision of a nuclear-free world is bold, was shared by Ronald Reagan, and is certainly also a long way off.
Yes, so many things that Obama has said are really wonderful (though not all of them) but the issue of actual achievement is real, ugly and won’t go away.

Indeed, I suspect that through this autumn and winter there will be many people, not least among Obama’s Republican opponents in the US, who will take an increased pleasure from anything they can do to stymie and block his plans on any and all policies on international politics. At home there are some indications already that the award may hurt as much as or more than it helps. That may also be true for some groups in the Middle East and South Asia who are scepticial about the real deliverables from his many fine speeches or simply and straightforwardly actively opposed to Obama’s agenda.

And the difficult truth is that on climate and health reform, two big issues on which he wanted to deliver this year, Obama is finding it somewhere between impossible and extremely difficult to come up with the goods.

Meanwhile, in Oslo, the Nobel Commitee will contemplate its 2010 and after prize awards in the shadow of its 2009 choice. The prize was not awarded for achievement this year. Will it be next or has it been devalued?

About the Author: Dan Smith is Secretary General of International Alert.

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