First, an acknowledgement: The Nobel Peace Prize is a thoroughgoing joke that just gets more ridiculous.
It’s honored a pretty impressive roster of people, true, but we didn’t need an award to recognize that Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel or Albert Schweitzer were awe-inspiring human beings.
On the other hand, the committee gave the imprimatur of the peace prize to war criminals like Yasser Arafat and Le Duc Tho, lumbering supranational bodies like the European Union and the United Nations, and other individuals of questionable deservedness, like Mikhail Gorbachev and Woodrow Wilson.
The committee’s recent use of the award to remark on American politics is a particular irritant.
In 2007, Al Gore won the award because, for all intents and purposes, he made a movie about climate change. That beats 2009’s winner, Barack Obama, who received the award for winning an election.
Jimmy Carter won it in 2002 “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development,” which was convenient timing given the United States and its allies were wrestling with a truculent regime in Baghdad at the time.
The peace prize has degraded to the point that Greta Thunberg was considered the favorite for last year’s award for skipping school and scolding adults; the committee exercised a bit of sense at the last moment and gave it to the relatively more deserving Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia.
Still, when oddsmakers are surprised a Nordic teenager with a good nose for publicity didn’t win the award, that should be a sign things are amiss in Oslo.
Now that President Donald Trump has been nominated for the peace prize because of his role brokering a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Graeme Wood has suddenly come to the convenient conclusion that it’s time to abolish the award.
If you’re unfamiliar, Wood is usually one of the more tolerable writers in The Atlantic’s stable. I’m not a fan of his politics, but stylistically, he’s excellent. He’s the author of an admirable tome, “The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State.” His denunciation of far-left author Vicky Osterweil’s recent book “In Defense of Looting” is one of the best treatments of that dismal subject and deserves a read.
Wood had a conniption when Norwegian parliamentarian Christian Tybring-Gjedde nominated Trump for the award. The conservative lawmaker said he wasn’t “a big Trump supporter” but that “[t]he committee should look at the facts and judge him on the facts — not on the way he behaves sometimes. The people who have received the Peace Prize in recent years have done much less than Donald Trump. For example, Barack Obama did nothing.”
Wood didn’t take kindly to this, as shown by the simple title of his Friday piece: “End the Nobel Peace Prize.”
“Trolls are a Scandinavian invention, straight from the frigid sagas of Norse mythology,” Wood began his article, “but Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a Norwegian parliamentarian, swears that he is not one. Observers of his antics this week could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.”
He went on to note that the committee had, on occasion, not given out any prize. (The most recent occasion for this was in 1972.) He thinks that ought to happen again because the Orange Man was nominated.
“Giving the peace prize to no one at all is a tradition the Nobel Committee should revive, perhaps on a permanent basis. The record of achievement of the peace laureates is so spotty, and the rationales for their awards so eclectic, that the committee should take a long break to consider whether peace is a category coherent enough to be worth recognizing,” Wood wrote.
“Peace had its chance, and blew it. The Trump nomination — one of hundreds, including this second from a Swede — helps show why.”
The second one, I assume, is Trump’s second nomination for the prize, this time from Swedish parliamentarian Magnus Jacobsson in recognition of the president’s separate role brokering a deal between Serbia and Kosovo.
I have nominated the US Gov. and the governments of Kosovo and Serbia for the Nobel Peace Prize for their joint work for peace and economic development, through the cooperation agreement signed in the White House. Trade and communications are important building blocks for peace. pic.twitter.com/XuhkLbHZAV
— Magnus Jacobsson (@magnusjacobsson) September 11, 2020
Wood talked with Tybring-Gjedde, who argued that Trump’s troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan met the prize’s criteria for “the abolition or reduction of standing armies” even as he built up the U.S. military.
“He admitted that Trump won’t win the prize, if only because of the man’s vulgarity and crude behavior,” Wood wrote, before quoting Tybring-Gjedde: “I know a couple of [the five members of the committee],” the parliamentarian told Wood.
“And they are looking for people who should behave a certain way. It’s not like chemistry — if they find out you have four divorces and are bad personally, they will never not give you the chemistry prize for that.”
So, naturally, Wood thinks it’s time to abolish the prize.
“By now the contradictions of the peace prize should be apparent. Is it given for peace, or for rumors of peace? Do you deserve a prize for maintaining despots, as long as the despots are part of a stable network? Is it given for accidentally wrecking a great military — or only if the destruction is intentional?” Wood wrote.
“What if you do all the right things, but you are a boor, or an alleged rapist? To these questions one might add a counsel of humility: If you have given the prize to enablers of genocide, kleptocrats, serial fabricators, and AIDS conspiracists, maybe you should sit out the next few rounds.”
Wood was likely referring to four other problematic winners: Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticized for her relative silence in the face of the country’s campaign of genocide; Yasser Arafat, whose rule of Palestine was marred by his arrant kleptocracy; Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan indigenous campaigner who won the award in 1992 and eventually had her backstory dismantled; and Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan ecologist who won the award in 2004 and believes AIDS is a biological agent.
Wood wrote that the prize “has always been subjective” but that “its incoherence has become too great.”
“The honor doesn’t incentivize peace, if one year you give it to [Henry] Kissinger (starter of many conflicts, ender of one), and another you give it to Mother Teresa (who never started a war, but who — as Christopher Hitchens liked to point out — used her Nobel lecture to inform the world that the ‘greatest destroyer of world peace’ was abortion),” he wrote.
“Tybring-Gjedde suggests that brief conversations with hideous men are a reason to award the prize, and its history suggests that he might be right. Then again, Barack Obama won the prize in 2009, while refusing to meet with Kim Jong-il and, by the way, expanding America’s drone program. (He won for his promotion of, notably not his success in achieving, ‘cooperation between peoples.’)”
All of this has been well-known for a while, mind you; noted Mother Teresa- and Henry Kissinger-hater Christopher Hitchens, who Wood name-checked, has been dead for almost a decade and spent the better part of his career railing against them. Menchu was exposed over 20 years ago and Maathai began getting Infowars-y on HIV/AIDS over 15 years ago. Yasser Arafat was always sick joke of a man, no matter how many people refused to see it.
So, why now? Wood makes it clear he thinks the award is getting too political, but it’s interesting to see him come to this conclusion so recently.
For him, the Nobel committee is left with two choices: Either it can give the award to one of those supranational organizations “or it can keep the prize locked away for a while, and reevaluate its reasoning for a modern era.
“I suspect that that reevaluation will end, if the committee is honest, with the admission that peace can be recognized only by its fruits, which take decades to mature, and not by its seeds. To keep giving awards for the seeds is to court embarrassment, and to make yourself hostage to wacky attention-seeking nominations like Trump’s. Better to shut it down, before the trolls do first.”
Too late for that.
Barack Obama, again, had done nothing but spend four years in the Senate and win a national election when he was awarded his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
Wood has come up with nothing new about the fatuousness of the prize, merely that he’s just been awakened (dare I say “woked?”) to the senselessness of it all because someone nominated President Trump for the award.
At least Trump did something before he was nominated — and he still won’t win.
The mere nomination is enough to raise Wood’s hackles, however. I’m sure there’s a lesson here about the politicization of the Nobel Peace Prize process, but darned if I can find it.
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