The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.
Nobody Ever Got Younger
“Why Are Nobel Prize Winners Getting Older?”—headline, BBC website, Oct. 7
What Could Go Wrong?
“Pence Debate Advice to Trump: Be Yourself”—headline, Politico, Oct. 6
A Medal for Trying
It’s been seven years, give or take 48 hours, since the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced it was awarding the Peace Prize to a young President Obama. “Yasser Arafat won a Nobel Peace Prize, too,” this column remarked on Oct. 9, 2009:
In a way, though, this comparison is unfair to Arafat, who, by signing the Oslo Accords, had at least accomplished something on paper. What has Barack Obama, in office less than nine months, actually done to promote peace?
Besides the beer summit, we mean.
For the benefit of our younger readers, the beer summit was a July 2009 effort to improve relations between black Americans and police. At seven years’ remove, it seems fair to characterize it as having been less than an unqualified success.
This year the committee went with a more conventional Peace Prize choice, a head of state with an actual peace agreement under his belt. Here’s the announcement:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220,000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people. The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process. This tribute is paid, not least, to the representatives of the countless victims of the civil war.
President Santos initiated the negotiations that culminated in the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, and he has consistently sought to move the peace process forward.
What’s wrong with this picture? No doubt you know the answer, as our readers are all brilliant and well-informed. But if Max Boot’s friend’s personal trainer, who is merely bright and personable, were reading the announcement, she’d probably be puzzled by the tentativeness of its language. “Resolute efforts . . . have not given up hope . . . consistently sought to move the peace process forward.”
They made an agreement! Isn’t that enough? No, as the press release goes on to explain:
Well knowing that the accord was controversial, he was instrumental in ensuring that Colombian voters were able to voice their opinion concerning the peace accord in a referendum. The outcome of the vote was not what President Santos wanted: a narrow majority of the over 13 million Colombians who cast their ballots said no to the accord. This result has created great uncertainty as to the future of Colombia. There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again.
This does end up looking something like the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, the one Arafat shared with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, then respectively prime minister and foreign minister of Israel. “By concluding the Oslo Accords, and subsequently following them up, Arafat, Peres and Rabin have made substantial contributions to a historic process through which peace and cooperation can replace war and hate,” the Norwegians announced back then.
But they acknowledged the accords were a mere promise of peace, not the real thing: “It is the Committee’s hope that the award will serve as an encouragement to all the Israelis and Palestinians who are endeavouring to establish lasting peace in the region.” That worked out about as well as the beer summit.
At least the Norwegians this year didn’t repeat the mistake of splitting the award between the good guys and the bad guys. Still, it’s bizarre that they’d give it to Santos just five days after the referendum was voted down—literally, a medal for trying.
In that regard, this year’s prize also follows the 2009 Obama precedent. Back then the committee was filled with hope:
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
And how did it work out? Not well, according to the Associated Press:
On matters of war and peace, Obama has proven to be a confounding and contradictory figure, one who stands to leave behind both devastating and pressing failures, as well as a set of fresh accomplishments whose impact could resonate for decades.
He is the erstwhile anti-war candidate, now engaged in more theaters of war than his predecessor. He is the commander-in-chief who pulled more than a hundred thousand U.S. troops out of harm’s way in Iraq, but also began a slow trickle back in. He recoiled against full-scale, conventional war, while embracing the brave new world of drone attacks. He has championed diplomacy on climate change, nuclear proliferation and has torn down walls to Cuba and Myanmar, but failed repeatedly to broker a lasting pause to more than six years of slaughter in Syria.
The AP reported in September 2015 that the committee’s departing secretary (who does not have a vote on the awarding of the prize) was critical of the award to the president:
Geir Lundestad writes in a book to be released on Thursday that the committee had expected the prize to deliver a boost to Obama. Instead the award was met with fierce criticism in the US, where many argued Obama had not been president long enough to have an impact worthy of the Nobel.
“Even many of Obama’s supporters believed that the prize was a mistake,” Lundestad wrote in excerpts of the book read by The Associated Press. “In that sense the committee didn’t achieve what it had hoped for.”
Lundestad . . . noted that Obama was startled by the award and that his staff even investigated whether other winners had skipped the prize ceremony in Oslo.
We too noted Obama’s evident embarrassment the day the award was announced. It speaks well of the president that he inquired about getting out of the ceremony, though as a practical matter actually skipping it would have made him look more like an egomaniac than showing up.
As for this year’s award, one wonders what would have happened if the Colombia referendum had been scheduled for this Sunday rather than last. Certainly the Norwegians wouldn’t have looked as ridiculous, at least not right away. Maybe the prize would have given a boost to the “yes” side and tipped the balance in what was a very close outcome (50.2% to 49.8%).
Oh well, what’s done is done. And if the Nobel Committee wanted to influence the outcome of future balloting, they’d have given the prize to Hillary Clinton for her resolute efforts to save the world from Donald Trump.
For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.