Obama’s Nobel Prize: An Arab perspective


Passionate debates on the web, in newspapers and more generally in the world Medias on Obama’s Nobel Peace prize granted last Friday have gone on for a few days now. Reactions from all over the world were manifested to the new successful laureate and especially from governments who mainly congratulated him. Civil society, personalities and the media were divided in two general positions: “Yes he deserves it totally, his discourses are imbued of peace and of bridge building between the different civilizations, this prize will empower his policy” or “no it’s too early, he has not done anything yet and he is still in the process of implementing his policy with no noticeable effect yet”.
In reading the comments, I noticed that the debate was therefore not concentrating on a precise foreign policy analysis of the new American President, which is uniformly and by the far majority considered by all as good, but on the issue of time. Obama’s detractors are actually not challenging the fact that his policy is not peaceful, but that it is too early to grant him the Nobel Prize.
I personally think we should not ask ourselves if it is too early or not to grant him the Nobel Peace Prize, but analyze his foreign policy since the beginning of his mandate and judge him on these facts.
We will firstly start on the criteria of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to designate Barack Obama as the successful laureate. According to the author of “Nobel Lectures in Peace 2001-2005”, Scoot London, Alfred Nobel stated in his will that the prize should be granted to a personality who obtained a victory for peace during the year. The Nobel committee has however gradually broadened the definition, the author adds, to take an interest in the nuclear weapon’s elimination as well as the promotion of tolerance between people[1]. These characteristics are precisely why the American President was designated as Nobel Peace Prize by the Norwegian Nobel Committee which declared to have rewarded him for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen International Diplomacy and cooperation between people, especially in his calls for nuclear disarmament[2].
President Obama has indeed called several times for a world free from nuclear weapons. In Moscow for example, at the beginning of July, an agreement was made with Russia to negotiate nuclear warhead reduction between the two countries before the end of the START I treaty on the 5th December[3]. Last September, Obama called for the emergence of a denuclearized world. On the issue of a cooperation between people and a strengthening of International Diplomacy, the new White House tenant also did some remarkable efforts such as the decision to cancel the U.S. missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, supposedly to counter an Iranian threat, and thus to end a simmering conflict with Russia and therefore make nuclear disarmament possible. Obama’s speech to the Iranian people for Nowrouz, the Persian New Year and the discourse in Cairo to the Muslim world were also celebrated as reconciliation steps. He also ordered the closure of Guantanamo two days after the beginning of his mandate, but the prison is unfortunately still open because of the Congress refusal to accelerate the procedure and will probably still be working until next year. On these bases should we consider Obama Nobel Peace Prize as deserved? Is American Foreign Policy finally targeting for peace? This is finally the real issue and why President Obama was granted the Nobel Peace Prize.
To answer this question let’s come back to the beginning of Obama’s story at the White House in viewing it from an Arab perspective and briefly on a universal one.
Obama’s presidency started on the 20th January 2009 following the Israeli war on Gaza which caused around 1400 victims during which he, by the way, remained silent about and did not condemn Israeli behavior at any moment. Quite on the opposite we would say: indeed, lately, in the Human Rights Council, the American deputy Secretary General for the Human Rights Michael Posner declared that the Goldstone report was “deeply wrong” and that he refused to consider on a same level Israel, a Democratic State which has the right to defend itself, and Hamas which reacted to Israel withdrawal from Gaza in terrorizing civil in the South of Israel[4]. He also refused the seizure of the International Criminal Court to judge Israel war crimes, against M. Goldstone recommendations. The United States also did put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to accept the Israeli Diktat to postpone the Goldstone report, which was threatening the peace process according to Prime Minister Netanyahou, in calling the Palestinians “to come back to their senses”[5]. The report was finally presented at the Human Rights Council under the pressure from the Palestinian streets, the Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas volte face after accepting to postpone it and beyond all scared to loose his very little credibility left.
On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, no notorious progress, as the recent article on Café Thawra “La Palestine : le mensonge de la Pax Economica” showed.
In his discourse in Cairo, President Obama legitimized and supported Israel demand to be recognized as a Jewish State (“the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied”), which is clearly a sectarian request. He also re echoed Israeli propaganda of a small State surrounded by aggressive countries constantly threatening it (“for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond” and “Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong”), while if we analyze history, except the 1973 war which was made by Syria and Egypt to recover occupied lands, each war was started by the State of Israel. Is Israel not the one to have launched two wars during these last 3 years and caused thousands of death in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2009?
President Obama confirmed the unbreakable relations with Israel (“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable”), regardless of Israel acts to undermine the peace process and therefore jeopardizing himself a peaceful environment in the region.
Still in his Cairo discourse, Obama declared that the United States will “welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people” and that “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.” Unfortunately the American President did not put in practice his words, in fact the United States are still supporting Mahmoud Abbas’ government which is not legitimate anymore. The presidential mandate ended the 31st of January, and did not take into consideration the 2006 Palestinian elections which observed the victory of the Hamas. This latter is still ostracized on the International Scene principally by the American officials who therefore refuse the right for the Palestinians to choose their representatives in imposing their own one. Obama’s administration also did intervene in the 2009 Lebanese elections with US vice president Joe Biden declaring before the polls that the nature and the volume of American assistance to Lebanon are linked to the 7th of June election and the composition of the next government[6]. They are even pursuing their policy of interference in Lebanese politics in refusing a national unified government composed of all the main political parties and especially Hezbollah presence in the government. The new President still refuses any contact with Hezbollah members, although their deputies are elected by the Lebanese citizens.
Obama declared during his speech in Cairo that he personally thinks that “the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein” while adding “the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible”.
Well Mr. President I am not sure that this analysis is shared by the 4.2 millions Iraqi refugees, the thousands of Iraqi (more than 655 000 in 2006 according to the British medical revue “the Lancet”) who lost their lives since the beginning of the war in 2003 and for the constant violence and insecurity still endemic in Iraq. No excuses have been made by President Obama to the Iraqis concerning the lies and the crimes of the American army.
The relations between Syria and the United States have improved since Obama’s arrival to the White House, notably through frequent visits from American officials to Damascus. American sanctions against Syria have however not been cancelled and have on the opposite been renewed under Obama’s presidency. The Security and Exchange Commission in the United States has on its side also strengthened its efforts to enforce the embargo on Syria concerning the exportation of technological and computer products[7].
In relation to our neighbour Iran, Obama changed his discourse: from an initially very cooperative and promoting dialogue with Iranian officials notably through his television message for Nowrouz, towards a more aggressive posture. It is moreover under Israeli pressure in May that Barack Obama set the end of the year as a deadline in relations with Iran’s nuclear program. On the 1st October 2009, the negotiation on the Iranian nuclear program started again after more than a year of suspension with Tehran accepting to open a nuclear site which had remained secret until then. American officials said it was a good step taken by Iran but they would still increase sanctions if no progress were made before the end of the year[8]. Obama’s aggressive stance towards Iran concerning its nuclear program disappears strangely when talking about Israel. This latter is indeed in possession of nuclear war heads since the sixties, but this does not seem to preoccupy the American President.
On a more international scale, American foreign policy under Obama is not what we would call pacifist. In Afghanistan, Obama’s administration has sent 21 000 additional soldiers and army generals are still asking for around 40 000. In Latin America, Cuba is still under embargo. The US President also did not welcome the Dalai Lama during his visit beginning of October in America to not offense Chinese officials. Finally, President Obama declared at the beginning of his mandate his determination to maintain American military supremacy in the world, in pursuing the project of Bush administration to increase the military staff of 100 000 men in the next ten years. Obama’s policy as we can observe is not clearly as we would say peaceful and respectful of national will.
In conclusion, it is undeniable that President Obama has a more multilateral perspective of International Relations than his predecessor Bush, which has considerably softened the atmosphere on the International Scene and between different countries. Some progress has been made on certain dossier, but should Obama’s foreign policy be described as a peaceful policy respecting the will of the people as declared in Cairo? Unfortunately we do not think so; Obama’s administration has lacked commitment to peace on a general scale and especially towards the Arab world. He has pursued and proclaimed his support to Israel, a regime of apartheid which flouts International Law, occupies foreign lands and neglects the right of the people in the region.
I do not recall in the history a Nobel Peace Prize which supported loudly the Apartheid Regime in South Africa.
President Obama also intervened in Palestinian and Lebanon domestic politics to support his clients, therefore proving again an example of the American foreign policy denial to respect the principle of non intervention. Dialogues with Syria and Cuba have, according to the new US President, improved, so why the embargos still remain? Have we not seen the inefficiency of embargos to weaken regimes and instead impoverish the people? The double standard concerning nuclear program is also disturbing: why is Israel, which has not signed the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) treaty and has a high amount of nuclear war heads, not threatened of any sanction? Whereas Iran which has signed the NPT and is negotiating with the International Committee to found a reasonable solution to his quest of a civil nuclear program is threatened of more sanctions and even by more sinister consequences? Definitely Obama’s administration has not aimed for peace; neither has his policy targeted for peace.
Finally, we should never forget that Obama is firstly the President of the United States, a Nation which has conducted an imperialistic policy for now more than a century and therefore peace has never been on the top of the list of their agenda, and Obama is unfortunately not going to change this matter of fact.
So no, we do not think he should have gotten the Peace Nobel Prize.

[1] Tribune de Genève, « Obama prix Nobel de la paix » samedi 11 octobre
[2] Tribune de Genève, « Obama prix Nobel de la paix » samedi 11 octobre
[3] Orient le Jour, Clinton recule sur les sanctions contre l’Iran, 14/10/2009
[4] Orient le Jour, Rapport sur Gaza : l’enquêteur de l’ONU recommande une saisine de la CPI, 30/09/2009
[5] Le temps, les Palestiniens Règlent leur compte, 30/09/2009
[6] Orient le Jour, 21/05/2009
[7] Orient le Jour ; Washington renforce son contrôle des exportations vers la Syrie ; Par Jihad YAZIGI | 28/08/2009
[8] Orient le Jour, Rencontre historique entre les USA et l’Iran 02/10/2009

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