by Amir Taheri
Do Norwegian politicians have a sense of humor after all? Or are they being deliberately provocative by nominating President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize in the middle of the biggest campaign of character assassination faced by any Western politician in recent times?
At first glance, Trump may actually have a claim to the dynamite-maker’s prize. He has brokered normalization between Israel and two of its erstwhile Arab enemies, with more expected to follow. He may have also cleared the last foyer of conflict in former Yugoslavia by mediating a settlement between Serbia and Kosovo.
In both cases he has managed to jump historic, emotional and ideological hurdles that many, including this writer, believed could not be crossed in the foreseeable future. How he did it and what underhand measures he employed to clinch the deals is a matter for speculation. But what matters, as far as the Nobel judges are concerned, is that he did it; he brought peace where there was conflict.
Trump the peacemaker? The liberal elites on both sides of the Atlantic react to that phrase with a hearty “Ha! Ha! Ha!” or an angry cry of “scandal”.
But, wait a minute, a closer look may tell a different story. First, with the exception of Dwight Eisenhower, Trump is the only US president since World War II not to have led his nation into a war, big or small.
President Harry Truman took America into the Korean War. John F. Kennedy got the US involved in the Vietnam War. His successor Lyndon Johnson extended the war into Laos. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford prolonged the war and extended it into Cambodia. Ronald Reagan had his mini-war in Grenada plus proxy wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua while also helping British allies in the Falklands conflict.
George H. W. Bush led the invasion of Iraq plus a mini but costly incursion in Somalia. Bill Clinton dragged the US into the Yugoslav conflict. George W. Bush drew a double by invading first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Leading from behind, Barack Obama got the US involved in the Libyan war while starting the largest drone war in history in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. He also incited the Arabs to rebellion against their governments but then refused to raise a finger to help them, thus lighting the fire of civil wars, notably in Syria. His support for the mullahs of Tehran also encouraged them to speed up their empire-building efforts, plunging much of the Middle East into violence and war.
In contrast, Trump the dealmaker, ignoring hawkish advisers, refused to take military action against North Korea. He even accepted to demean himself in the eyes of many by treating the North Korean despot Kim Jung-un with decorum. Trump also pulled the plug on a series of planned airstrikes against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Last but not least, Trump tried to broker a deal with the Afghan Taliban.
One may or may not approve of those acts, and in some cases, notably legitimizing the Taliban, one may even have a sense of betrayal. But, as far as Nobel judges are concerned, all those acts were aimed at making peace.
I doubt that, in the end, the liberal elites in control of the Nobel game will go for Trump. But if they do, he will be the fifth US president to gain the accolade. And if he does, he would be the most deserving of them all.
The first to win the Nobel was Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, for mediating a ceasefire in the Russo-Japanese war, which Russia had lost. The mediation did not remove the core of the conflict over the Sea of Okhotsk, with Russia recovering its losses in World War II and annexing the Japanese Kuril archipelago. Roosevelt, endearingly known as “Teddy”, was far from a “peace and love” icon. He waged war to complete the conquest of the Philippines and campaigned for joining the First World War. Worse still, the dear “Teddy” was a promoter of eugenics, ordering that “criminals should be sterilized and mentally retarded be forbidden to have descendants.”
The second of the four was President Woodrow Wilson, in 1919. Hailed for his “liberal internationalism,” Wilson had led the US into World War I, at the end of which he published a 14-point declaration promising self-determination to numerous “nations” and proto-nations in Europe and the Middle East. Britain and France ignored the declaration and went on to expand their empires with a series of treaties from Versailles to Lausanne and Montreux.
During his presidency, Wilson the peace laureate had led several wars, notably an invasion of Mexico to seize Vera Cruz and destabilize the despot Victoriano Huerta in favor of the “liberal” Venustiano Carranza. Wilson’s Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan talked a good talk for liberal elites but achieved little. Had he been around today, Wilson’s thinly disguised racism alone would have disqualified him.
The third Nobel laureate was Jimmy Carter for “his decades of untiring efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts and advance democracy.” Since Carter was president only for four years, it is not clear where those “decades of efforts” came from. In any case, by arming, training and financing the first Mujahedin, Carter started a war that is still going on in Afghanistan. Carter’s Keystone Cops-style mini-invasion of Iran to release US hostages showed that was not shy about using force; he just didn’t know how to do it.
The fourth Nobel winner was Barack Obama, who was chosen even before he had become president. His case illustrated what in 1817 Coleridge called “a suspension of disbelief” with Nobel judges deciding to honor Obama for what he might do in the future. That Obama did not turn out to be the champion, of “make love, not war,” as Nobel judges had expected, is beside the point. His fans like him because he talked their talk without walking the walk.
Trump’s message of “make deals, not war” isn’t intellectually sexy enough for the liberal elites who set the norm for Nobel-style gimmicks. He may yet win the Nobel, but don’t hold your breath.
Article first published on GateStone Institute International Policy Council.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.