When the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Barack Obama, many, myself included, felt that the Norwegian committee had so embarrassed itself as to devalue the prize permanently. A Dallas service station sign, at the time, captured the sentiment precisely: "Free Nobel Peace Prize with Oil Change."
Jay Nordlinger's masterful new book "Peace, They Say" has changed my mind.
Not that Nordlinger dissents from the skeptical view of the 2009 prize or many others. But in his careful review of every prize and every recipient since 1901, he builds a case that the capacity of the prize to do good outweighs its mischief.
The mischief, without doubt, is infuriating. Nordlinger is pungent about the politicized prizes. The Norwegian Nobel committee, he notes, has used the prize repeatedly over the past decade to signal its contempt for one man -- George W. Bush. In fact, as Nordlinger writes, the award to Obama "could be construed as the fifth anti-Bush Nobel."
The first, in 2001, while New York was still smoldering after the al-Qaida attacks, had gone to the United Nations and Kofi Annan. (The peace prize has been granted to the U.N. repeatedly.) The message seemed to be: "the U.N. must have supremacy in any fight against Islamic terrorism."
The second anti-Bush prize went to Jimmy Carter in 2002. Leaving no doubt, the chairman of the committee explained that the Carter award "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line the current administration has taken. It's a kick in the leg to all who follow the same line as the United States." Nordlinger's review of Jimmy Carter's post-presidential antics is only for those with strong stomachs. I had forgotten, for example, Carter's gushings about North Korea and the "reverence with which they look upon their leader."
In 2005, the Nobel laureate was Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Why ElBaradei? He was known for whitewashing Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, for condemning Israel and the United States every day before his morning coffee, and for denying and excusing Iran's push for nuclear weapons. Fear of Iranian nukes, he said, had been "hyped."
Next, the Nobel Peace Prize went to Al Gore and the U.N. (there it is again) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And finally, to President Obama, who had only been in office a matter of weeks before being so honored. The prize seemed to say: "Thank you for not being Bush."