Friday, October 9, 2009

Does Pres. Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? Yes, he can!

This morning at a meeting of ICUJP we learned that Pres. Obama had just received the Nobel Peace Prize. Our first reaction was one of amazement--he's a good man, but what did he do to deserve such a prize? The timing of the Nobel Committee's decision seemed especially ironic since this week was the ninth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan and Obama is considering a troop surge and longterm occupation. To protest the US occupation of Afghanistan, we held a vigil on Wilshire Boulevard. (The picture shows us at the Farmer's Market on Wilshire and Vermont.)

During our discussion period prior to the vigil, one member of our group said drily that giving Obama the Peace Prize was "premature" since he had not done enough yet to deserve it. Others were more generous in their assessment of Obama's record, but we were all clear that we needed to write an open letter to Obama and the Nobel Committee, expressing our sense that Obama must do a great deal more than give good speeches if he is to deserve the honor he has been given. Fortunately, Obama seems to "get it" and so we wrote this letter to urge him to fulfill his promises and to live up to our hopes he has aroused here in this country and around the world.

Here is the letter, with editorial changes by our group, signed by our President Steve Rohde:

Does President Obama Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? Yes, He Can!

When the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to President Obama, they praised his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." That was a dramatic departure from the belligerency and unilateralism of the Bush administration. President Obama has indeed raised hopes that the US will end torture, close Guantanamo, reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal, and withdraw troops from Iraq. These are noble aspirations worthy of recognition, but will tragically be remembered as mere rhetoric unless President Obama takes concrete steps to accomplish them.

As the chair of a group of people of diverse faiths who have been meeting since 9/11 to promote justice and peace, I agree with President Obama that the Peace Prize is a "call to action." We hope it will encourage and challenge him not only to fulfill his promises, but to go further. It is not enough to withdraw troops from Iraq, he should also have an exit strategy for promptly withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

Announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize came nearly eight years to the day after the US invasion of Afghanistan on Oct 7, 2001. Eight years of bloody war have passed—one of the longest wars in US history—and the situation in Afghanistan has grown worse, not better, according to most experts, even those who support this war. There have been 1,381 coalition deaths in Afghanistan, with the numbers spiking in the past two years. Civilian deaths—more than 2,000 Afghans were killed last year alone, according to the United Nations—have been a decisive factor in souring many Afghans on the war.

The majority of both Afghans and Americans now want us to leave. Yet many military experts are saying that we may be “obliged” to stay in Afghanistan for forty years or more to turn it into the kind of nation we want it to be.

No foreign power has ever had a military “success” in Afghanistan—all have been forced to leave, usually ignominiously, because the Afghan people do not want a foreign power to impose its will on them. Sooner or later, we will have to leave Afghanistan just like the Russians and the British.

Our endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are draining our national treasure as well as causing needless deaths. We are spending 130 billion dollars per year on our military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan—which is considerably more than Obama’s health plan would cost per year.

In accepting the Peace Prize, President Obama needs to realize that the problems of this region cannot be solved militarily. We must decrease our dependence on military solutions and increase our diplomatic efforts and development aid. We need to remember that terrorism cannot be ended by killing innocent people, especially mothers and children, as all too often happens in times of war.

To be worthy of the honor that the Nobel Committee has bestowed, President Obama needs to take several decisive actions. To live up to the ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama should create a Department of Peace, a cabinet level agency with the mandate to seek peaceful solutions to international conflicts.

He must keep his promise to close Guantanamo and also close the notorious Bagram prison in Afghanistan. He must hold fully accountable all those who used, and authorized the use of, torture by the US government, be they high government officials, Justice department lawyers or CIA agents.

President Obama must withdraw our occupying forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stop supporting the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the siege of Gaza. He must insist that Israel abide by UN resolutions calling for an end to occupation of lands seized during the 1967 war and work for a peaceful, just two-state solution to the problem of Israel/Palestine.

As the best way to ensure peace and security, President Obama must reduce our bloated military budget and spend more on domestic needs at home and development needs abroad. To show the world that we are a responsible, law-abiding nation. President Obama needs to actively support the international court and international law.

In 1993, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, Nelson Mandela invoked the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that "humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war." Mandela passionately called for "a world of democracy and respect for human rights, a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance, relieved of the threat and the scourge of civil wars and external aggression and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees."

If President Obama fulfills these goals, he will indeed be worthy of the Peace Prize. It won't be easy, but he has given us hope that peace is possible. We believe that yes, he can!


Stephen Rohde is Chair of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, a group of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others formed in the wake of 9/11


  1. Obama shows absolutely no inclination to do the things identified that would make him worthy of the Peace Prize. There's been some nice rhetoric, but the fact is that he is the world's #1 warmonger. Escalated in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Columbia. Continued to spend billions to subsidize Israel's atrocities and human rights violations. Continued the war in Iraq by hiring large numbers of mercenaries to replace U.S. troops. Refused to enter into nuclear arms reduction with Russia because they wanted lower levels than he would agree to. Raised the military budget (over half of all discretionary spending). Increased the size of the armed forces (one criterion in Nobel's will for Peace Prize recipients was working to abolish or reduce standing armies). Has continually threatened Iran. Etc., etc.

    As President of a nonprofit which has Peace Prize winners as endorsers, I am sad that they have lowered the reputation of the Peace Prize. But we have to remember that peace advocates have no vote in selecting Peace Prize winners. It's a committee of politicians that do this.

  2. Dear Bill, Thanks for the reality check. Everything you say is true and yet the irony is that our past president was so much worse that Obama looks pretty good. Remember Teddy ("Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick") Roosevelt won a Peace Prize for his work to help end the Sino-Japanese War. Clearly the Nobel Committee had political motives in giving Obama the prize--the hope he would live up to his promises. Whether he does remains to be seen. It is up to us to pressure him to do better.

  3. it would seem that Obama winning the Nobel Peace prize represents a vote of confidence from Europe...

  4. walter hjelt sullivanOctober 11, 2009 at 3:21 PM

    At Providence Monthly Meeting this morning the topic of the Peace Prize was a central theme. But the sense there was very different. The question raised was "Are we willing to join with the President to build a society that takes risks beyond our comfort level, to have compassion for ourselves and for others when we fall short, and continue the process of learning to love each other radically." Can we lay down our cynical story lines and take one step a day towards the beloved community God wishes for us?

    I think our President gets this. At the same time he is an unusual mixture of idealist and pragmatist. I choose to believe that his strategy is to continue to take one step in a positive direction at a time and pray that those of us of good will will do the same.

  5. Thank you for your comments. I feel a great deal of sympathy for Obama, but he is under tremendous pressure from lobbyists and politicos in DC to compromise his principles. As Bill Samuels points out, there's a huge discrepancy between his stated intentions and his actions, except in the case of Afghanistan, where he is doing what he promised--escalating the war-- and that's the wrong course of action.

    I intend to support Obama when he does the right thing, and challenge him when he succumbs to political pressure. I take to heart what FDR said to a group of reformers who came to him with some excellent ideas: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

    We have to make Obamaa do what we feel is right. Otherwise, others will make him do what we feel is wrong. That's how politics works.

  6. This post I read is from 2009 now it's December 2013,, what is your opinion about if Obama still deserves the Nobel prize? He hasn´t yet closed Guantanamo, and he hasn´t done other things he promised, so it seems he hasn´t fullfiled what he said...
    Adam from Catalunya.