By Donald Kaul
You have to hand it to the Nobel Peace Prize people; they have a terrific sense of humor.
To give the prize to President Obama nine months into his first term is funny enough, but to do it at the very moment he may be deciding to throw 40,000 troops into Afghanistan adds a rich layer of irony.
Nobel Prizes tend to be life achievement awards given years, sometimes decades after the recipient has completed his or her best work. William Faulkner, for example, won the Nobel Prize for literature just after he'd written "The Fable," perhaps his weakest book. The same with Ernest Hemingway and "The Old Man and the Sea," a third-rate imitation of the young Hemingway.
But Obama's prize comes at the very beginning of his story. He has promised to reduce international tensions through negotiations rather than threats, he has tried to get warring parties to the bargaining table and he has declared his intension of pulling out of Iraq sooner rather than later.
But he hasn't done any of those things yet. In the first place he hasn't had time. In the second, the enemies he faces--Islamic jihadists, Republican Congresspersons, that crowd--are hard to convince.
It's as though the Nobel Committee had given its Award for Literature on the basis of a book outline. Giving the Peace Prize to Mr. Obama is absurd on the face of it.
But I'm for it.
I'm for it because it's giving the vast right-wing conspiracy fits. It's frothing at the mouth at the injustice of it all and sneering at the committee, as it did when the committee honored Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, two of conservatives' favorite piñatas.
Perhaps the most uproarious response came, as it often does, from Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. "The real question Americans are asking," he said, "is what has President Obama actually accomplished?" This, from the head of a party that spends every waking moment trying to obstruct the president on every issue, including peace. Talk about chutzpah.
If the right wing had its way, Dick Cheney would have gotten the award, right after he'd ordered an attack on Iran.
Obama was properly humble when given the news. "I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many who have been honored by this prize," he said. That's O.K., Barack, you deserve it more than Henry Kissinger did. Never forget that.
I suppose that Mr. Obama benefited from following so close on the heels of the Bush-Cheney gang that held the White House for eight long years. Those guys used to sit around the campfire holding hands, singing the neo-conservative anthem:
"All we are saying, Is give war a chance."
After that bunch, Obama looks like Mother Teresa with a jump shot.
The Nobel Prize, particularly the Peace Prize, has always been given more attention that it really deserves. The winner is chosen by five Norwegians sitting around in a room sifting through nominations sent in from all over the world. American Idol contestants face a more diverse jury than that.
If I were on the committee I would never, ever give the prize to a head of state. Heads of state may want peace, they may work for peace, but basically their chief responsibility is to look out for the interests of the nation that elected them. And that often entails going to war.
How else can you explain the fact that while we pride ourselves in being a "peace-loving" nation, we have been in an almost perpetual state of war for the past 70 years?
It's better to give the awards to the bleeding-heart human rights workers. At least they'll never invade Iran.
Donald Kaul is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-losing Washington correspondent who, by his own account, is right more than he's wrong.