Byline by M J Akbar: The Hope Hype
Diwali! Is The only serious danger in Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize for Peace is that he might take it seriously. The early indications are that he will. Obama might have saved himself a great deal of trouble by saying thanks, but no thanks. But he could not resist an award whose credibility collapsed the moment he got it.
After the obligatory reference to humility, he added, a little more grandly, “I will accept this award as a call to action.” At least he admitted that there had been no action so far. What on earth did the fatuous Nobel Committee see when they surveyed the map of the world in the last six months? Did they find that Mahmoud Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama had created an independent Palestine while Hamas was engrossed in playing Patience and Hezbollah had gone for a conference in Tehran? Or that India and Pakistan had signed a treaty solving Kashmir while benign Barack hovered gently in the background, always within camera range?
The only substantive decision that Obama has taken in terms of war and peace is to ramp up the war in Afghanistan far above George Bush’s scale of intervention. He is on the point of sending upwards of 50,000 more American troops so that Viceroy-Lord Dick Holbrooke, and his bevy of Pentagon generals, can fight for another decade on the killing rocks of a battlefield that saw serious action during Alexander the Great’s time and has not paused since. If outsiders do not turn up, Afghans simply go to war against one another. Alfred Nobel thought that his Peace Prize should go to leaders who disband standing armies. Obama may be perfectly justified in upgrading the still largely somnolent American presence in Afghanistan into a full-scale fighting force, but the chaps in Oslo might have waited till the shooting stopped. They waited for Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa to grow old. Why couldn’t they have waited for Obama to become middle-aged?
Their official excuse is that Obama symbolises hope. That’s nice. It broadens the scope for future winners. All you have to do is hope, and possibly pray, that the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba have reinvented themselves into vegetarian Gandhians and your postbox might have a nice letter from Oslo in October 2010.
The big ticket hope is non-proliferation. If you think about it coolly — very coolly — one chap who has done far more than Obama for non-proliferation in the recent past is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. He actually dismantled a nuclear weapons facility. He may have done so under pressure, but he has done something. Obama has given a few pretty speeches and knocked on the table at the United Nations. Obama has made no effort to rein in the most powerful nuclear weapons power in history, a nation that refused to accept any international control or convention and continues to develop the most sophisticated nuclear weapons technology. That country is, of course, the United States of America. I suppose Oslo did not think of a Peace Prize for Gaddafi for fear of ridicule. Gaddafi does not belong, as it were, to the right sort of country, plus his acceptance speech might have taken a full day. But does anyone have any idea when the ridicule for the Obama decision will begin to ebb?
Obama is too sharp not to understand this, and it will further whet the temptation to lend some substance to the hype. He is not going to withdraw from Afghanistan because of this medal; and climate change is Al Gore’s parish. So his big push is likely to be on non proliferation. He dare not do anything about America’s nuclear muscle; and he has assured Tel Aviv that he will continue the policy of ignoring Israel’s secret cache. There is little he can do about the Big Five, and North Korea is Hillary Clinton’s show. Pakistan is too much of a military pal at a time of dire need, and Pakistan has a good excuse as well, India. So his options boil down to just this: abort Iran’s programme and bully India into as much compliance as possible. If warrior Bush was dangerous for the region between the Nile and the Indus, peacenik Obama could be troublesome for the land of the Ganges.
IS IT possible that the Oslo peace mafia had run out of people to hand this prize to? Not every recipient is going to get a chapter in the history books, even though they might be worthy enough. It is not easy to recall the name of the winner in 2008. But the range of the prize has been expanded from reformed warriors to humanitarians. We all know of course that Mahatma Gandhi was never found worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but then they would have probably considered Jesus Christ too good to be true as well. [Jesus was a non-violent opponent of European colonisation as well, in his case, Roman.] But we have not completely run out of worthy individuals or institutions. The doctors who do selfless work in conditions of utmost misery, like Darfur or other conflict zones in Africa, deserve both the applause and the money. The Aga Khan might not need the money, but there should be some recognition of the extraordinary restoration work his foundation has done to preserve the great monuments of human civilisation — that too is a commitment to peace.
But there is one good, even great, reason for giving Barack Obama the 2009 prize, although it was omitted from the citation. Barack Obama threw out Bush Republicans, the biggest band of warmongers in recent American history, from power in Washington. This must surely count as a signal contribution to world peace.