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Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2002 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Michael Kelly

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A Nobel idea of peace | In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Jimmy Carter, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, explains committee secretary Geir Lundestad, intended to indicate its keen support for the former American president's criticism of the current American president's warlike ways. "But I am not too optimistic that we will have any influence on President Bush," Lundestad added.

I am not too optimistic that I will have any influence with the Nobel Committee, but on the grounds that one good futile gesture deserves another, I would like to suggest a more fitting recipient for this year's peace prize -- George H.W. Bush or his son, George W. Bush. Seriously.

The Nobel Peace Prize is intended to go to the individual who has done the most to further peace in the past year, although sometimes, as with Carter, the prize is more for lifetime achievement. By "peace," the Nobellians do not, of course, mean any peace. The prize is not intended to honor the peace of the jackboot, the absence of conflict that is sustained by internal police forces and occupying armies. If such peace was worthy of honor, the committee would each year face a choice made impossible by the sheer number of worthy contenders.

No, what the Nobel Committee surely means by "peace" is a "good peace'': just peace, humane peace -- peace that diminishes rather than increases human suffering, peace that frees people from death and terror and oppression.

And in these terms, what, exactly, has Carter done? His great achievement as president, in this regard, was to broker a peace agreement in 1979 between Egypt and Israel. This was a good thing, but it did not -- 617 Israelis dead these past two years, 1,909 Palestinians -- actually result in peace.

As an ex-president perpetually and self-proclaimedly in the pursuit of peace, Carter has put in more amiable sofa time with more despots than anyone except perhaps Kofi Annan (who, come to think of it, was last year's peace prize winner). But what has he actually achieved -- as measured in concrete terms, such as the downfall of tyrannies, the liberation of peoples, actual victories over war and war's fruit, subjugation? Very little. (See wretched, oppressed, dictator-ruled Haiti before Carter's 1994 peace mission; see wretched, oppressed, dictator-ruled Haiti today.) Now, consider the belligerent Bushes. The first President Bush marshaled an army that reversed the gains of an illegal war and liberated 2 million people from a spectacularly vicious foreign occupation. This was not a small or ambivalent or symbolic accomplishment. One day, occupied Kuwait was a place of grand-scale, state-sanctioned murder, rape, torture and theft. The next day it was not; it was, again, a country at peace. The sole reason for this peace was the war brought by the American president.

The second President Bush marshaled an army that ousted the foreign-backed occupiers of Afghanistan and destroyed a tyranny whose entire philosophy and every action was a violation of all that is basic to human rights. Now, Bush proposes war again -- to overthrow what the New Republic, in its current cover story, "The Liberal Case for War," calls "one of the most internally violent and repressive regimes on Earth." This the Nobellians find morally objectionable.

Such is the mind of the reactionary. Many thoughts are unthinkable to the ideologically bankrupt establishment left that the Nobellians exemplify. Paramount among these is that war -- or, to be precise, war or the threat of war sponsored by the United States -- has been the modern world's great deliverer of peace. But there the truth sits.

Name, in the past hundred years, a single important triumph for peace and for liberal democracy that was purchased by the jaw-jawing the Nobellians so admire. No rush, take your time.

Now, look at what American war-war (and the threat of American war-war) won: the defeat of the fascist attempt to rule the world; the defeat of the communist attempt to rule the world; the consequent rebuilding of a Europe protected by American arms into a democratic and peaceful continent for the first time in history; the rebuilding of an American-protected Japan into a democratic and peaceful nation for the first time in history; the emergence of a world in which, for the first time in history, the peaceful values of liberal democracy are the ascendant norm.

No, no, it remains unthinkable. To imagine American force was a force for good, one would have to imagine America was a force for good. And this, the Bourbons of Oslo will never, never do.

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© 2002, Washington Post Co.