Premature Nobel Peace Prize?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We don’t see dark conspiracies and anti-Israel motives behind last week’s surprise announcement that President Barack Obama is this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner.  Claims that the choice was in part an effort to pressure him to be tougher with Israel or avoid a military confrontation with Iran strike us as the kind of reflexive, strident talk that plays well on talk shows but has little meaning in the real world.

That said, we, like so many others, are scratching our heads over what looks like a premature selection.

Intentions are not the same as accomplishments, as so many past presidents have learned. Five years from now, President Obama may well deserve international recognition for his peacemaking efforts — or he may be one of a depressingly long list of leaders with lofty but ultimately unmet goals.

There is little doubt the Nobel committee was acting, in part, out of admiration for a shift in America’s diplomatic approach that emphasizes negotiations over confrontation. But so far that shift, praiseworthy as its motives may be, has not produced concrete results.

The Iranian threat continues to grow, just as it did under the more confrontational policies of former President Bush; the Afghanistan war is at a turning point, with President Obama forced to chose between a risky troop surge or an equally risky decision to stick with the status quo.

If there has been progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, it is all but imperceptible, despite President Obama’s conciliatory outreach to the Islamic and Arab worlds and his hiring of a stellar cast of Middle East advisers and envoys. Indeed, early missteps in focusing on a desired settlement freeze appear to have set back his ambitious timetable, stepping up Palestinian demands and rallying Israelis around Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Terrorism is an ever-present backdrop to modern life, and nuclear proliferation remains a grave and growing threat.

The prize may ultimately prove to be a spur to the president to work even harder to fulfill his goals, but it may also create unrealistic expectations about what one president can accomplish in this enormously challenging environment.

It is no crime to long for peace, or to bestow great honors on those who dedicate themselves to bringing it about. But the standard should be accomplishment, not wishful thinking or expectations.

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