Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel for Good Intentions

I just read that the Nobel Committee has chosen Obama for this year's Nobel Peace Price. Obviously the prize is no longer meant to award achievements which Obama has little of since he was only elected President less than a year ago. Indeed, the citation acknowledged as much:

"Very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the committee said...

Is the bar for qualification so low that merely attracting media attention and offering kind words of hope sufficient? Apparently so. Even the chairman of the Nobel Committee only said that the point of the award was to 'enhance what he is trying to do'. By reducing the criteria to the quantum of publicity and platitudes, the committee has ended up devaluing the prize.

Michael Gerson put it well in the Washington Post today:

Apparently, they now give out a Nobel Peace Prize for good intentions. Unless I have missed something, President Obama has not yet achieved a nuclear free world -- which was also, by the way, Ronald Reagan's good intention. He has not yet achieved peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- a prospect the Israel Foreign Minister recently dismissed as years away. He has not yet tamed the nuclear ambitions of Iran, which has responded to outreach with deception, defiance, bloody crackdowns and missile testing. He has not yet pacified Afghanistan -- preferring, so far, to dither and fidget. He has not yet removed the nuclear threat of North Korea, the world's wackiest, totalitarian nuclear power. He has not yet solved the problems of global warming, achieved a free Tibet, ended the slaughter in Congo, lifted the oppression of Burma or settled the conflict in Darfur.

At first I thought the announcement of the prize was a joke. On further reflection, the Noble Committee has made itself a joke. It has decided to give a ribbon before the race, a trophy for aspiration, a gold star for admirable sentiments. Which means that the decision it made is entirely, purely, solely political. Members of the committee like Obama's goals and rhetoric. And since they aren't American citizens, this is the only way they could vote for him. In the process, they have forfeited any claim to seriousness. Peace -- the kind of peace that keeps people from being killed and oppressed -- is an achievement, not a sentiment. The Noble Peace Prize Committee can no longer distinguish between the two.

Enough Said. Also click here to read interesting reactions to this from around the world.

Update: AP has an piece on the 'Common Misconceptions about the Nobel Peace Prize' where Geir Lundestad, secretary of the prize committee says that the award is not necessarily given for successful efforts but 'to encourage those who receive it to see it through, sometimes at critical moments'.


I, Me, Myself ! said...

He won for intiaitives in climate change. So I guess Jairam Ramesh qualifies too.

He won for making efforts to strengthen international diplomacy. Nehru made "efforts" too. So I guess Nehru qualifies too.

Obama himself said he was surprised. I think he put it very mildly. He must have been shocked, and then laughed thinking this was a joke. And then he must have realised that he actually did wake up, and the Nobel Committee has decided to make a joke about itself!

- Sudhir

Pilid said...


The White House itself was quite surprised with one aide asking whether this was an April 1st joke. Notwithstanding the prize committee's clarification, I must say I am still unimpressed by this choice. If his efforts had made some headway at least, there may some justification for this but even that is not the case here.

Xinhua Ram said...

Perfect title for the post. Only the path to hell used to be paved with good intentions; now the path to Nobel too :)

Pilid said...

Absolutely, XR. Well said :)

Sandesh said...

At least, obama could have gracefully rejected the prize. With him accepting even though he feels 'humbled', the prize and its winner both are devalued!

Thyagarajan said...

Very unfair. Ram and I could now be justifiably peeved that Wen Jiabao was not considered for the award

I, Me, Myself ! said...

Also, please read this piece by Ananth Krishnan about Hu Jia, the apparent favorite who was overlooked. He is Human Right activist in China who is in jail for "subverting state power". From the article, it looks like Hu Jia is in the forefront in the criticism of Communist China, and his voice was silenced by "state power". And Chindu chose to remain silent about this man for so long. Imagine if someone in India was jailed for protesting against government..

- Sudhir

Dirt Digger said...

Think of this scenario. The Nobel committee would be doing 2 things, offending China and awarding a prize to someone who did real work!
Cant let that happen!