Calgary Herald
October 9, 2009

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize too hasty

By Harry Sterling, For The Calgary Herald

Nobel awards are supposed to be awarded for concrete accomplishments,
not simply good intentions.

For example, have Nobel Prize committees in Stockholm ever given the
prize for literature for a novel not yet written?

The majority of Nobel award winners toiled for years, even decades, to
have their work and accomplishments recognized. Canada's own Willard
Boyle, winner this year of the Nobel Physics Prize only had his team's
digital photography breakthrough recognized 40 years later.

While many people around the world understandably have been encouraged
by U. S. President Barack Obama's stated desire to resolve important
global issues through peaceful dialogue rather than unilateral action
as practised by former President George W. Bush, others cannot
comprehend how he can be given the Nobel Peace Prize after only eight
brief months in office, particularly since he actually has no
significant accomplishments to speak of as of now.

Unlike most previous Nobel Peace Prize recipients,

Obama has not yet had to prove himself in any meaningful way, as did
Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Teresa, Bishop Tutu, the
Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Kim Dae-jung and others.

Such previous Nobel award winners often spent years struggling to
promote democracy or social justice and human rights, some, like
Nelson Mandela and Kim Dae-jung were actually imprisoned for years
under oppressive conditions.

With a few exceptions, former Nobel Peace Prize winners were widely

praised for making concrete contributions to world peace.

For many, despite considerable respect for Obama's good intentions,
this year's award is premature, a gesture of support for what they
hope will be accomplished during his time in office. For others,
including cynics, granting such an award to Obama is not solely
premature but also misguided.

Already there are those who point to some recent actions by Obama
which
es as human rights. His decision to not receive Tibet's spiritual
leader, the Dalai Lama, last week during the Dalai Lama's weeklong
visit to the United States, stunned many Americans. Human rights
advocates have denounced the president's decision, calling it an act
of appeasement towards China.

The fact that Obama administration officials made it known that the
failure to receive the Dalai Lama was based on a wish to not undermine
negotiations next month with Beijing over the controversial nuclear
programs of North Korea and Iran, only angered American human rights
groups and members of Congress.

They described Obama's action as a complete reversal of his
pre-election position when he and Hillary Clinton both urged Bush not
to attend the opening ceremony at the Olympics in Beijing in protest
over China's use of force to quell the uprising of Tibetans.

(Interestingly, despite publicly meeting with the Dalai Lama last
year, during the Dalai Lama's recent visit to Canada Prime Minister
Stephen Harper did not receive him. And by no apparent coincidence,
Canada's foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, not only attended China's
national day reception in Ottawa, he also praised China's
accomplishments over the past 60 years, his unprecedented attendance
seen as a major shift in policy toward China by Harper.)

Armenians were also shocked that Obama reneged on a promise to
describe the massive killing of Armenians in Turkey during the First
World War as genocide. Many Armenians didn't accept the explanation of
White House officials who justified his silence based on a desire not
to undermine the prospect for normalization of relations between
Turkey and Armenia. They saw it simply as an example of the American
administration's unwillingness to anger the U. S.'s NATO ally.

Ironically, Obama is far more popular in other nations than in his own
country. This might be a partial explanation why the Nobel committee
wanted to award him the peace prize.

Many other countries were aghast at the unilateral interventionist
policie
sident George W. Bush. His decision to invade Iraq in 2003 on spurious
grounds not only appalled numerous countries, it caused a major split
within the European Union with Britain and Spain supporting Bush and
major states like Germany and France totally opposed, refusing to send
troops to Iraq.

Bush's hard-line approach to Iran and North Korea's nuclear weapons
threat also was regarded as an impediment to resolving those issues.

Bush's unilateralism was deeply resented in much of Europe. Barack
Obama's stated desire to end unilateral policies and actions, instead
working closely with the United Nations and other multilateral bodies,
has had a high positive effect in how many nations view the United
States and its president. His decision to have direct contacts with
North Korea and Iran is considered a highly positive step.

But, like an author who sets out to write a book worthy of a Nobel
Literature award, Barack Obama still has to demonstrate that his own
story turns out to be worthy of such a prize.

Harry Sterling, a former diplomat, is an Ottawa-based commentator.
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