The Nobel Peace Prize and Obama’s push for the Iran agreement

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By Gerard Leval

As members of Congress, and particularly Democratic members of Congress, are being subjected to intense pressure from the White House demanding that they support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, regardless of its acknowledged flaws, it is important to look back a few years in order gain some insight into President Barack Obama’s singular and relentless focus on this agreement.


On Oct. 9, 2009, the Nobel Committee awarded that year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the newly elected president of the United States, Barack Obama.  The committee cited the new president for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

The committee further noted that it was primarily because of Obama’s “promotion of nuclear nonproliferation” that he was being awarded the prestigious prize.

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It is appropriate to remember that the Nobel Peace Prize, established under the will of Alfred Nobel, was intended to be awarded to whomever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  Nobel Prizes are distributed by Scandinavians. The peace prize is under the purview of the Norwegians, while other Nobel Prizes are awarded by the Swedes.

For most of the world, the designation of Obama as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, especially for his work in promoting “nuclear nonproliferation,” came as a complete surprise.  It had all of the qualities of a kind of fantasy — unrelated to the stated criteria for the award or the prior achievements of the recipient.  The world was swooning at the election of the young, charismatic president of the United States and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee seemed to have been swept up in that fervor.  Obama could have turned down an award that he had to have known was not merited.  Instead, he seems to have relished being so honored, even if it was without justification.


However, it is possible that a very different thought process motivated the award to Obama — a process that was much more cynical and devious. The goal was not to reward Obama for his work on behalf of peace, but rather to influence the policies of his nascent presidency.  And the prize certainly seems to have had its influence on the Obama presidency.  We have witnessed the president try in every possible way to avoid the use of military force, even when he himself had determined that it was necessary (note the famous Syrian “red line” and the failure to follow through), as though endeavoring to merit his prize.  Now, with the signing of the JCPOA with the Iranians in Vienna, an agreement that assuredly reduces American influence in the world, the Nobel Committee may have achieved a major triumph.

It has been a very poorly kept secret that the Scandinavians have had great difficulty with American foreign policy for decades. Sheltered by their geographic distance from the worst trouble spots in the world, the Swedes and the Norwegians are not above smugly criticizing the use of military force anywhere (all the while knowing that they are protected by the umbrella of American power).  They abhorred George W. Bush and his aggressive approach to confronting the threat of Islamist terrorist groups. They stand ready to condemn any resort to force.

Scandinavian dislike for Israel and its policies has become ever more open in recent years.  In 2009, the Swedes, echoing a vile anti-Semitic canard, saw fit to accuse the Israelis of harvesting organs from Palestinians.  Continuing on this path, after Sweden became the first European nation to recognize a Palestinian state, that nation became so openly anti-Israel that the Israeli government was unwilling to receive the Swedish foreign minister.  The Norwegians, with a few notable exceptions, including, importantly, the current conservative prime minister, have similarly been active in opposing efforts at protecting Western interests in the Middle East and especially those of Israel.

The Nobel Peace Prize has increasingly become an instrument for the expression of Scandinavian pacifism and of Norwegian pacifism, in particular, as well as of disdain for American foreign policy.

The Scandinavians have a perfect right to their opposition to American policy.  They even have a perfect right to oppose Israel’s efforts to defend itself against its virulent enemies.  Every nation has the right to make such choices, no matter how wrong-headed.  However, they do not have the right to use a prestigious award, which purports to be a reward for achieving peace, as a manipulative tool to promote their own policies. This is a masquerade that is not only deceptive, but exceedingly dangerous to world peace.

The Norwegian members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee might also want to temper their smugness with a brief reminiscence of their nation’s past.

When the Nazis conquered Norway in 1940 in their third military strike of World War II, Norway quickly capitulated to the Germans.  Then they immediately chose a very pacifist route: collaboration.  Under the leadership of their prime minister, Vidkun Quisling, they joined Hitler in an alliance, thereby providing the Nazis with access to Norway’s assets and coastline to promote the military conquest of Europe — betraying all of their erstwhile democratic allies.  That conduct was so outrageous that the name of Quisling has entered the vocabulary as being synonymous with the word “traitor”.

It would seem that the Scandinavians do not have any lessons to teach us when it comes to world peace. The cynical use of the Nobel Peace Prize to manipulate our policies should be understood for what it is.  It could have been hoped that our president would have been above falling into the crass trap that was set for him early in his presidency.  But we humans are, as the author of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) reminds us, vain creatures.  We are so vain, in fact, that catering to our vanity often achieves its cynical goal.  It certainly seems to have done so this time.

Gerard Leval is a partner in the Washington law firm of Arent Fox LLP. 

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