The Peace Prize, the Pakistani Girl, and Putin

The Peace Prize, the Pakistani Girl, and Putin

By Carl M. Cannon - October 13, 2013

Only minutes after the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced it had awarded this year’s peace prize to the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the committee took to social media to shore up its unpopular decision.

Previous peace prize winners, the committee pointed out, included the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Union, and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. This is true enough, and honoring an arms control group is certainly in keeping with Alfred Nobel’s original intentions—something the Norwegians have not always done.

The defensive tone was inspired less by the identity of the winner, however, than by that of the also-ran. The popular favorite had been 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who continues to work on behalf of human rights and female education—even after being attacked by murderous Taliban thugs.

“Who is Malala?” her would-be assassin called out after boarding a bus she was riding. Spotting the girl, he shot her in the head. But Malala didn’t die. She has recovered her health and her voice. And her courage? That never left her.

“The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died,” she told the United Nations on July 12, her 16th birthday. “Strength, power and courage was born.”

Now, her memoir has been published with the title “I am Malala,” her brave reply to the question asked on the bus in Pakistan.

But then religious warriors of the 7th century who don’t want women to think for themselves haven’t become any more enlightened. Last week, a Taliban spokesman said the girl remains in their gun sights. If she “stops the spread of secular negative propaganda against the Taliban and also stops following secular ideology, the Taliban will not harm her,” he said. Otherwise, he added, we “will wait for a suitable opportunity to target Malala.”

Apparently, this was all a bit heavy for the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which doesn’t like to roil things up too badly. But what this year’s peace prize to the OPCW for its work in Syria suggests is that the Norwegians really wanted to give the prize to Vladimir Putin.

Doing so would have been a nice corrective, at least in the liberal European mind, to the committee’s odd decision to give the 2009 award to President Obama. But Putin wasn’t eligible, an inconvenience that reminds us that the Obama award was a political statement, not a reward for actions in the service of peace.

First, a brief back story.

In 2002, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter finally won the Nobel Peace Prize. I say “finally” because many Nobel aficionados, Carter included, believed he was long overdue. The Nobel committee did, too: Its chairman said flatly that Carter should have shared the 1978 prize that went to Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s president, and Menachem Begin, the prime minister of Israel.

So why didn’t he? Well, it was question of timing. The 1978 award, which author Jay Nordlinger termed “as natural a prize as the committee has ever conferred,” paid homage to the Camp David Accords that President Carter did so much to effectuate. But the meetings between Sadat and Begin at Camp David did not take place until September of that year. Nominations are always closed on Feb. 1, a deadline that the Norwegians take seriously.

(Think about that date for a moment. In means that Barack Obama—even if he were nominated at the very latest possible moment—couldn’t have been in office more than 10 days before his name was proffered for the prize.)

But it also means that Vladimir Putin missed out. On Feb. 1, 2013, Putin was just a former KGB official mainly known internationally for jailing fellow Russians whose business he coveted or who posed a political threat. Today, the man is a peacemaker, thanks to his obstinate opposition to the desire of the 2009 peace laureate to bomb Syria.

That irony aside, the other point to make about the 2002 prize is that it was awarded, at least in part, because of Carter’s criticism of George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq War. The committee did cite Carter’s “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” But then Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Gunnar Berge sullied the feel-good moment by saying that it “should be interpreted” as a “kick in the leg” to Bush.

Carter wasn’t astute enough to realize that the Norwegians had diminished his award, perhaps because he was still smoldering over the 1978 snub. Or perhaps Berge’s rudeness didn’t register with Carter because of its antipathy for Bush. Either way, Bush showed more class than his detractors. He personally congratulated Carter the morning of the announcement, graciously telling the 39th president that the honor was “long overdue.”

To no one’s surprise, Malala Yousafzai reacted with similar class Friday. Using social media (remember, she’s only 16), Malala tweeted, “Congratulations OPCW on winning the Nobel Peace Prize and your wonderful work for humanity.”

She added that she was honored to have been nominated, a point she amplified in an interview with Christiane Amanpour, saying that she’d feel better about winning a peace prize after she’d accomplished more. As for Putin, his Moscow minions were already making statements—veiled threats?—that there’s always the 2014 prize. 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

Obama Is No Clinton
Larry Elder · November 13, 2014
Bret Stephens' Call for Robust U.S. Foreign Policy
Peter Berkowitz · November 16, 2014
A President Who Is Hearing Things
Richard Benedetto · November 12, 2014
Red Tide Rising
Charles Kesler · November 9, 2014

Carl M. Cannon

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter