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The Nobel Peace Prize: Rewarding Peace Among the Great Powers

By Naomi Nakamura

When I heard that the Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to President Barack Obama, I was shocked. I know that most of my friends and family had voted for Obama in hope of a change from Bush. But what had President Obama done to deserve a peace prize? The United States is still occupying Iraq with more than one hundred thousand troops. Obama is increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and his escalation of the war is taking a growing toll on the lives of the Afghan people and U.S. troops. In 2002 in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the committee noted the contrast with the Bush administration's war in Afghanistan and build-up to invade Iraq. So how can they now award the peace prize to a President who is fighting the same two wars?

I think that the all-Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee is rewarding President Obama for his turn away from Bush's unilateral foreign policy that alienated European allies, towards a more multilateral approach that embraces the European powers. President Sarkozy of France, a country that had led opposition to the invasion of Iraq in the United Nations, praised the award saying that it reflected “America's return to the hearts of the world's people's.” European governments have been gladdened by the Obama administration's embrace of the need to fight global warming, as well as the “resetting” of relations with Russia, which has reduced tensions in Europe. Obama's emphasis on the war in Afghanistan over Iraq also reflects a multilateral approach where European NATO troops are fighting alongside the United States, in contrast to Iraq where Britain was the only European power to send troops.

The problem is that making peace with European powers does not mean peace for the world’s people. The same European powers that the U.S. is re-embracing under Obama are themselves former colonial powers with a long history of imperial military interventions in other countries. In terms of U.S. policy towards the Third World, the United States is preparing for more wars. The total military budget has increased under Obama from what the Bush administration was spending. The United States is increasing its military involvement in conflicts around the world, from trying to set up military bases in Colombia where the struggle of the FARC guerillas continues, to sending troops in the wake of natural disasters in the Philippines where there is a growing insurgency of the NPA (New People’s Army).

In 1967, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who had received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 for his leadership in the U.S. civil rights movement, spoke out against the war in Vietnam. In doing so, he took a stand against a U.S. president, Lyndon Johnson, who had perhaps done more for civil and economic rights than any other single president. Under pressure from the struggle of African American people who inspired Chicanos, workers, students, and others into mass struggle, Johnson signed the Civil Rights act, started Medicare and Medicaid to provide health services for the elderly and poor, and began Head Start, an educational program aimed at low-income preschool children. But King realized that he had to speak out against what he called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” We need to have the same spirit and courage of King to raise our voices against the war in Afghanistan, the occupation of Iraq, and the military build-up that is putting the United States on the path to even more wars in the future.

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