Earlier this month, President Bush welcomed this year’s American winners of the Nobel Prize to the White House. The event featured considerable pomp and hearty congratulations, with the President declaring that he is “proud for what [the winners have] done not only for America, but for the world.” The visit, however, concealed one critical and inconvenient fact. Namely, that Nobel Peace laureates throughout the world have come forward in the past year to condemn Bush’s unilateralist leanings in foreign policy, and to warn against a rush to war with Iraq.
In addition to prize-winners in science and economists, the dignitaries present at the White House visit included President Jimmy Carter, whose 2002 Peace Prize came with a firm rebuke for the current administration’s policies. In their October citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee highlighted Carter’s persistent efforts to peacefully resolve conflicts through “mediation,” “cooperation,” “international law,” and “respect for human rights.” These terms have never quite taken hold in our current president’s vocabulary, his recent maneuvering at the U.N. notwithstanding. Certainly, such internationalist ideas take a back seat in the Administration’s recently-released defense doctrine, which vows to indefinitely defend American supremacy in the world.
It was with this strong-arm outlook on foreign affairs in mind that Nobel Committee chairman Gunnar Berge stated flat out that President Bush should understand Carter’s citation as “a kick in the leg.”
The Committee’s rebukes reflect a larger series of criticisms that have come from the Nobel community in the past year. In large part, it was outrage from America’s allies abroad that forced Bush to take his war plans to the U.N. Security Council. Like Carter, many felt that this action was a positive step. However, even after the Security Council’s endorsement of Resolution 1441, the potential for a destructive unilateralism persists. As President Bush interprets the measure as a justification for U.S. attack, rather than a means of preventing war, the opposition of some of the world’s most respected leaders grows ever more relevant.
Indeed, the statements of Nobel Peace Prize-winners provide an unusually clear indication of how far the White House had gone in alienating the U.S. from the rest of the world.
After he won the Nobel Prize in 2001, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that attacking Iraq would “be unwise in that it can lead to a major escalation in the region.” Since then, he has persisted in working to craft alternatives. In a meeting with Bush last week, Annan urged “patience” in assessing and addressing the threat of any weapons Iraq may have. Rejecting the search for a “flimsy or hasty excuse to go to war,” he insisted that “the issue is disarmament. Regime change is not on the agenda.”
The dispute highlights a key conflict. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter points out that “The last thing Bush wants is a weapons inspection regime that works. That would mean lifting economic sanctions and Iraq coming back into the fold with Saddam Hussein still at the helm.” That’s why President Bush has reserved the right to launch his own attack, even though Resolution 1441 explicitly requires that he go back through the Security Council before meting out retribution for any Iraqi non-compliance with inspections.
It was Bush’s ongoing insistence on acting as judge, jury, and executioner that earned him a stern reproach from 1993 Nobel Peace Laureate Nelson Mandela. In an interview with Newsweek in September, Mandela railed against the White House’s implication that “if you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries.”
“That must be condemned in the strongest terms,” Mandela said. He concluded in no uncertain terms: “The attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace.”
Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 after brokering a peace plan for Central America. This plan helped to end the blood bath in the region that had been fueled by the reckless foreign policy decisions of President Reagan and his Vice President — George H. W. Bush. On November 9, Arias told an audience of American high school students that “The world is tired … of the arrogance and unilateralism in Washington.” Arias added: “I believe that if you keep acting unilaterally, you will become more isolated every single day.”
For his own part, Jimmy Carter used a September Op-Ed in the Washington Post to denounce “a core group of conservatives who are trying to realize long pent-up ambitions under the cover of the proclaimed war against terrorism.” As recently as November 16, he lambasted the White House for impeding multilateral agreements that would help create long-term safeguards against terrorism. “One of the things that the United States government has not done,” Carter said, “is to try to comply with and enforce international efforts targeted to prohibit the arsenals of biological weapons that we ourselves have.”
With war becoming an ever more immediate possibility, intervention from world leaders may yet prove necessary. Of course, diplomats will need more than peace prizes if they want to intervene successfully to halt the White House’s invasion. They will need a strong mandate.
It took popular outrage and organized action to free Nelson Mandela from prison and to build peace accords in Central America. Since the voices of international opinion have not been enough to stop Bush’s march to war, it appears that a new wave of public pressure will also have to come from home.