Few of us are sufficiently knowledgeable in chemistry or physics to challenge the Nobel prize selections in these fields. However, the Nobel Peace Prize deals with the more familiar issue of politics, and, as it reflects endorsement of a political position, it naturally engenders both applause and opposition.
This year's peace prize, awarded to US President Barack Obama, is no exception. There are those who felt that the award came too early in the presidency, before he'd had sufficient accomplishments to merit an award.
"What has President Obama actually accomplished?" asked Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. This view was echoed by others in his party.
The Republicans have it wrong. The award was not given for achievement, but for direction; not for actual accomplishments, but for pointing America, and the world, in a better direction. In the words of the Nobel committee: "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."
PEACE IS not only a goal, but also a method of achieving that goal. It is both the destination and the way. Hostilities between nations generally breed further hostilities in a spiraling cycle of violence and retaliation, which ultimately brings war, not peace. The process of using peaceful engagement between nations as the method of resolving disagreements leads to a spiraling cycle of accommodation and mutual respect, and moves the protagonists toward peace.
There are many serious international disputes that require resolution. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the simmering dangers posed by the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran - and nuclear proliferation in general - need to be contained. Closer to home, the conflict between Israel and Palestinians and the neighboring states causes grief and threatens to produce even greater future misery for all, the longer it continues. How should these conflicts be resolved?
The approach of the Bush administration was to place US interests above all, to go it alone and to shoot first and ask questions later. In so doing, president George W. Bush abdicated America's role as leader of the Western world and embroiled the United States in military conflicts that have exacerbated tensions in the world, strengthened the hands of terrorists from a rejuvenated Taliban in Afghanistan and an unstable Iraq, and encouraged fanatics in our region. Bush antagonized and provoked enemies, alienated friends and misread geo-strategic realities.
Obama ran on a platform of change. The Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to applaud the direction that this change is taking.
The search for peace using the method of peace does not, however, mean surrender to tyranny or accommodation to evil. A case in point is Iran. Bush's saber-rattling and threats of economic sanctions against Iran were disregarded by the Iranians, who perceived the United States to be a paper tiger. Lacking national consensus to begin yet another military invasion, his threats of intervention were not taken seriously. Moreover, the US lost its leadership role and could not obtain international consensus to contain Iran's nuclear program.
Obama's approach has been to try to bring Iran into the community of nations. If Iran were to stop acting as a renegade state, trying to rebuild the Persian Empire of ancient days, it would stop its inimical policies and cooperate with the rest of the world. Obama has reestablished US leadership of the Western world and has more clearly defined the policies that the US and the rest of the world expects Iran to take.
ENGAGING IRAN in negotiations does not, however, imply acquiescence or submission to Iranian violation of international demands. Last month, Obama, together with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown held a press conference in which they expressed their respective countries' displeasure over a secret nuclear facility in Iran and demanded Iranian compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. Their statement, which was supported by Germany's Angela Merkel, demonstrates renewed unity among the Western powers and their resolve to hold Iran accountable.
The Nobel Peace Prize confers international recognition that the approach of Obama is to be applauded. Obama has restored America's moral authority and leadership role in the world. The prize has strengthened Obama's hand, early in his presidency, and will hopefully assist him in achieving great things in the remainder of his term of office.
The decision to award the prize to Obama is a demonstration of the international community's support for a multilateral rather than a unilateral approach to international affairs and a serious attempt to resolve conflict situations by engaged diplomacy, while using the military option only as a last, though sometimes necessary, resort. It is a declaration of both expectation and support, and the hope that Obama will be able to live up to his promise, for the sake of America and the world.
The writer is counsel to Democrats Abroad Israel, which takes its seat on the Democratic National Committee alongside the other 50 states and is represented at the Democratic National Convention.