Earning a Nobel
Many people, including the president himself, were surprised this month when the Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to Barack Obama. His critics -- as well as some supporters -- questioned whether he deserved it. It was too soon, they said; he’d done too little. We posed a question to a collection of writers and scholars: What should the president do to earn the prize?
Of all the regions in a dangerous and intractable world, forgotten Latin America might paradoxically offer Barack Obama the best opportunity to influence events so that the “hope for the future” embodied in his Nobel Peace Prize becomes a reality.
Building on his creative engagement with Latin America after the George W. Bush years of blindness and neglect, there is much the president can accomplish immediately. Lifting the senseless blockade against Cuba, followed by full diplomatic relations, would be a good beginning. Another sore spot is Honduras, where the United States has not done enough to isolate and punish the de facto government, which came to power through a coup against the country’s elected president. And Obama should rethink his approach to hemispheric security (canceling, for instance, Plan Colombia) as a way of defusing tensions in a Latin America threatened by a new arms race.
Build a legacy in America’s backyard
The U.S., one of the largest Spanish-speaking countries in the world, could also send a signal of friendship to Latin America by legalizing the situation of millions of undocumented Latino workers.
On another front, presidents Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Felipe Calderon of Mexico, seconded by Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have valiantly opened up a tentative conversation about the failed “war on drugs.” If Obama were to encourage, and perhaps imitate, their efforts to decriminalize the use of marijuana, it would help alter an irrational policy that has generated a mafia of narcotraficantes across the Americas.
There are, of course, the real wars to win. Against poverty and tyranny, against ecological depredation and the marginalization of the indigenous peoples and their wisdom. The president, with his immense heart and his inspirational words, could be a fundamental partner in our quest for a better future.
Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean American author and a professor of literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University. (adorfman.duke.edu).
The No. 1 priority: Stop Iran
Yossi Klein Halevi
The president received the Nobel Peace Prize for his stated commitment to nuclear disarmament, and the most urgent place to begin is preventing an Iranian bomb.
That means keeping Iranian-American negotiations on a tight timetable and then, if negotiations falter, moving rapidly to significant economic sanctions. And if those fail, the president should sanction force -- on the part of others if America can’t or won’t assume that responsibility itself.
The president’s hopes for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict depend in large part on stopping the Ahmadinejad bomb. If that effort fails, the Arab world’s jihadists will be empowered. No Palestinian leader, and for that matter no Arab leader, would likely defy the new regional power and dare normalize relations with Israel. As for the Israeli public, its willingness to concede territory has always depended on its confidence in the country’s ability to defend itself. A nuclear Iran would drastically reinforce Israelis’ existential fears.
A nuclear Iran, moreover, would trigger a Middle East nuclear arms race, destroying President Obama’s vision for disarmament.
Obama must prioritize his peace agenda. He must avoid the temptation of trying to immediately solve the Palestinian problem, which is, tragically, far from a solution. By all means, he must continue to press for mutual gestures of goodwill from Israel and the Arab world. But a realistic peacemaker needs to show far more urgency in stopping the imminent nuclearization of Iran.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
Appoint a prosecutor for war crimes
To truly earn the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama needs to transform himself from a barrier to a beacon when it comes to human rights and international law.
The most obvious start would be to fulfill our obligations under treaties and international law to appoint a special prosecutor, without limitations, to investigate and prosecute any war crimes committed by U.S. officials. Obama already has acknowledged that waterboarding is torture and that torture is a war crime, yet his administration is blocking investigations that are the prerequisite to justice. Obama has promised CIA employees as a group that they would not be prosecuted for torture for following orders, despite the long-standing finding from the Nuremburg trials that “just following orders” is no defense for a war crime. Appointing a special prosecutor would show that Obama will not continue to circumvent principle for politics. He could further demonstrate his commitment to international law by dropping his opposition to the release of photographs and other records showing our abuse of detainees.
Doing the right thing often demands decisions that are neither popular nor easy. If Obama wants to show that the peace prize is more than the superficial triumph of a cult of personality, he can start by showing that his own country is willing to pay the price demanded by the law of nations.
Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University and has served as lead counsel in various major national security and constitutional cases.
Change Washington’s useless Mideast policies
President Obama would deserve the Nobel Peace Prize if he made a serious effort to help bring peace to the Middle East. He could begin by changing U.S. policies that uselessly embitter people and offer zero benefit to the United States.
In my grandparents’ time, people throughout the Arab and Muslim world looked to America as a beacon of light and hope: the great antithesis of the European empire builders. That attitude changed only when it became clear, after the destruction of Palestine in 1948, that America’s values are one thing and its policies quite another.
All Obama has to do is bring America’s policies in the greater Middle East into alignment with our values.
In Pakistan, he should end the catastrophic population displacements and immense human degradation and suffering that are a direct result of these policies, which are not President George W. Bush’s but his own.
In Afghanistan, he should end the war now -- beginning with the absurd missile attacks and air raids that have killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children since he came to office -- and contribute as much to help rebuild the country as he had been planning to spend on expanding the carnage.
And in Palestine and Israel -- the source of much of the region’s unrest -- he should end the shell game of trying to split a tiny piece of land into ethnic islands and instead bring about the creation of a single democratic and secular state for both Palestinians and Israelis that treats all of its citizens equally: the greatest of all American values.
Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA. He is the author of, among other books, “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”
Refuse the prize, focus on being a real president
President Obama ought to politely refuse the award and state that henceforth he intends to do his primary constitutional job by defending America and its citizens to the greatest extent possible -- no matter how the world, or a Nobel committee, responds to his actions.
In Afghanistan, he should say, this means doing whatever it takes to militarily destroy Al Qaeda and then immediately pulling out of that country lock, stock and barrel. He should say that America is divorcing itself forever from Colin Powell’s idiotic “you break it, you own it” doctrine and that, therefore, the U.S. will engage in no more nation-building or democracy-spreading.
The president should pledge that America will go to war only as a last resort and will engage in no more offensive and unprovoked wars like the one in Iraq.
But he should make it crystal clear that any group or country that attacks the United States inside North America will quickly wish it was never formed. He should soberly promise calamity for the group or government responsible, as well as for its civilian supporters and infrastructure. America, the president should say, will never again go to war against a man -- as it did against Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden -- but against entities.
The president should close his speech by borrowing a slogan from the U.S. Marines, one that surely would have the Founding Fathers’ approval. He should say to foreign friends and foes alike that they can have no better friend and no worse enemy than the United States of America, and that the choice is up to them.
Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, is an adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University.
The question overlooks what he’s already done
To truly deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama should do the following:
* Enter into serious negotiations with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about reducing our two countries combined arsenals of more than 20,000 nuclear weapons.
* Reverse the U.S. decision to install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, thus reducing military costs and enhancing cooperation with Russia.
* Reach out to Muslim countries and peoples with a speech in a Muslim population center.
* In concert with five other countries, begin direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program.
* Re-initiate negotiations with North Korea to shut down its nuclear weapons program.
* Open relations with Myanmar, a potential transfer point for dangerous nuclear materials.
* While presiding as president of the United Nations Security Council, call for stopping fissile material production worldwide.
* Halt the worst global financial meltdown since the 1930s, preventing further economic hardship and possible outbreaks of new wars.
* Work with the U.S. Congress to introduce new legislation to address disruptive, conflict-producing climate change.
Oh, you say he’s done all of these?
Then the real question is: What must other world leaders and citizens do to deserve Barack Obama’s leadership?
Kennette Benedict is executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.