Barack Obama’s shocking selection as this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize left some swearing, some giggling, and many simply stunned into immobility. But awarding the prize to a President who was in office less than two weeks before nominations closed isn’t the worst decision the Nobel Committee has ever made. It’s not even close. After all, Barack Obama hasn’t done much, but at least he hasn’t supervised genocide in the Philippines, impoverished the Palestinian people, or fueled the rise of Nazi Germany, so that puts him far from the bottom of the Peace Prize Barrel.
First awarded in 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize went mostly to pacifists and mediators in its early years, even as the great powers militarized and nationalized, hurtling through the bloodiest century in human history. It was only after the end of World War I, the War to End All Wars, that the Nobel Committee started giving the award to people who really made the world a more dangerous place.
10) Jimmy Carter- 2002- The worst ex-President in American history would rank higher on this list, except he deserved more credit for the 1978 prize shared by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin for the Camp David Agreement. It was not the first step towards a broader peace in the Middle East, but Egypt and Israel haven’t gone to war since. But Carter got his trip to Oslo years later, well after he’s undermined the Clinton Administration’s efforts to stall North Korea’s nuclear program, and just about the time he started his incoherent ramblings against Israel.
9) Jody Williams- 1997- This Vermont activist headed the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which shared the prize with her. Williams urged Western powers to unilaterally ban landmines when hostile states wouldn’t agree to give them up. Like any weapon, landmines can be deployed irresponsibly, though American and Allied forces track their minefields and take other steps to prevent collateral damage. Landmines are also a defensive weapons system, which have played a large role in preventing North Korea from invading South Korea for the past fifty years. Williams took the flawed logic of the gun control movement, and expanded it to a geopolitical scale.
8) Kofi Annan- 2001- The Secretary General of the United Nations split the Prize with the U.N. itself for the U.N.’s general awesomeness at peace and stuff. Annan’s tenure was marked by widespread corruption, such as the Oil for Food scandal and a general inability and unwillingness to address the systemic flaws in a moribund bureaucracy guided as much by the wishes of tin-pot dictators as the free people of the world. On the bright side, the U.N.’s Peace Keeping troops weren’t accused of rape and robbery in several of the countries where they were deployed.
7) Elihu Root- 1912- The U.S. Secretary of State practices shuttle diplomacy before the term was coined, helping to arbitrate peace treaties around the globe. He did not ask for an arbiter following the Spanish-American War. As Secretary of War, Root oversaw the brutal American occupation of the Philippines, marked by a scorched earth campaign against rebel forces and some of the worst abuses by American troops in our history.
6) Frank Kellogg- 1929- The Kellogg-Briand Pact, also known as the Pact of Paris, outlawed war. Really. It prohibited the use of war as “an instrument of national policy.” It was signed in August of 1928. Since the deadliest war in world history had broken out yet, the Nobel Committee gave Kellogg the Peace Prize. They may have jumped the gun a little.
5) Aristide Briand- 1926- Brian was coauthor of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but his medal was already on the mantelpiece for his work on the Locarno Treaties, a series of seven agreements designed to normalize relations with Germany. The principal treaty was an agreement by Germany, France, and Belgium not to attack each other, guaranteed by Britain and Italy. Looking back, it’s almost shocking that Neville Chamberlain never got this award.
3) Charles Dawes- 1925- Vice President Dawes shared the Prize with British Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain. Dawes lent his ideas and his name to the Dawes Plan, which forced Germany to pay huge annual reparations to Britain and France. The Dawes Plan completely collapsed by 1929. German resentment over punitive reparations is now seen as helping fuel the rise of the Nazi Party over the next decade.
3) Mikhail Gorbachev- 1990- For nearly a century, the Nobel Committee had been recognizing do-gooders who ignored dictators, appeased dictators, or asked dictators politely to stop killing people. In 1990, they stepped it up a notch by given the prize a dictator who wasn’t very good at being a dictator. Gorbachev’s flailing attempts to hang onto the last vestiges of Soviet power included sending KGB and military forces into the Baltic States, and he was ousted in a coup in August of 1991. But that birthmark was just so cute.
2) Al Gore- 2007- Gore clearly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for narrating the highest profile documentary about meteorology that year. The International Panel on Climate Change, which shared the prize, if not the stage with Gore, has since revealed that the most compelling evidence for its global warming work, the Mann Hockey Stick graph, was based on faulty reading of global temperature data. In it’s own words, the Committee gave the prize to Gore and the IPCC “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”, which quite frankly don’t have a lot to do with peace. Except that when it’s really hot out, people fight more I guess.
1) Yasser Arafat- 1994- Arafat shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East” following the 1993 Oslo Accords. Now if you sign a peace treaty in the Committee’s backyard, that’s going to get you some Nobel love. So let’s look at the evidence for and against Arafat’s selection:
*Kleptocrat who kept Palestinians impoverished through equal measures of corruption and incompetence
*Wanted to kill the Jews and take their land
*Hated American power as much as Nobel Committee
*Willing to put “killing the Jews” on the backburner if he could just take their land first.
Honorable Mentions- President Obama is the third sitting President to receive the award, and the first two seemed far more deserving at the time.
Teddy Roosevelt- 1906- Roosevelt received the Prize largely for his role in mediating the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War. Credit should have been given to the Japanese Navy, which effectively ended the war by sinking the Russian Navy at the Battle of Tsushima.
Woodrow Wilson- 1919- Wilson’s efforts to create the League of Nations got him the Norwegian hardware. The League was one of the most colossal failures of the 20th Century, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.