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June 26, 2012 2:15 pm

Rewarding Moments: Prizeworthy vs. Praiseworthy

avatar by Michael Widlanski


President Barack Obama addresses Shimon Peres after honoring the Israeli leader with the Medal of Freedom June 13. Photo: White House.

Awards and prizes appear to be the ultimate credential, from the Oscar to the Grammy. But in complex matters—foreign policy, national security, terrorism—the verdict of elite committees is very undependable.

Over the last decade, the sheen has worn off two of the most prestigious awards—the Nobel Peace Prize and the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism.

Unlike the esteemed Nobel Prizes in literature and sciences from the Royal Swedish Academy, the “Nobel Peace Prize” is granted by a five-member panel named by Norway’s parliament, sometimes carrying the fishy aroma of Norway’s politics.

Often, its decisions reek like Norwegian salmon gone bad: giving President Jimmy Carter a prize for  meeting the peace-loving terrorists of Hamas and the tyrants of North Korea. Had Shakespeare been alive in 2002, he might have re-written the famous line in Hamlet to read: “something is rotten in the state of Norway.”

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When Norway chose Obama for the Peace Prize even before he began his job as President of the United States, it reflected Norwegian politics—and its wishful thinking in world affairs, not any achievements on Obama’s part. The prize signaled Norway’s critique of America’s customary leadership role, while backing Obama’s multilateral and “lead-from-behind” attitude.

Norwegians probably now frown about stories of President Obama personally picking terrorists to kill by remote-control devices, probably dismayed hearing him brag how he determined, he directed, and he virtually pulled the trigger to kill Osama Bin-Laden. Many Americans disagree. They think it was one of Obama’s best decisions, though hardly an original idea of Obama’s.

The first U.S. president to win a Nobel (in 1906) was  the first president to venture abroad while in office—Theodore Roosevelt. TR helped end of the Russo-Japanese War. Obama has done nothing even remotely resembling such a peace-making effort. Rather, he assumed the Russians wanted a “re-start” worldwide—peace in Europe and Asia—only now learning that they preferred war in Georgia and supported tyrants in Iran and Syria. Obama’s negotiating skills also failed as he overstepped in Israeli-Palestinian talks, setting them back 20 years.

When Norway’s panel gave a Peace Prize to Al Gore for promoting his doctrine of man-made global warming, critics had trouble finding the link between temperature and planetary peace, as well as the scientific and policy justifications of the award. After all, there are some doubts whether global temperatures have risen in the last 15 years, and there are serious doubts about the role of man in possible climate change.

Several studies by Europe’s science conglomerate CERN indicate that solar storms and sunspot activity are far more important than man in global climate changes.

Unless you are a scientist or a global-warming junkie, you might not know this, because the news media are often shallow and predictable in these matters, and they are often similarly superficial about deciding the most cherished award in journalism: the Pulitzer Prize.

In the last six years, at least three Pulitzer Prizes were awarded to reporters or news media who attacked the U.S.-led war on Arab-Islamic terror: The Associated Press won this year for assailing the New York Police Department’s plans to monitor suspicious Muslim activities in and around New York—a place where such activities have already led to many attacks and thousands of lost lives. Meanwhile, The New York Times won once—in 2008—for outing U.S. interrogation efforts against terrorists, and it won again in 2006 for disclosing a U.S. monitoring of terrorists’ phone calls and ways to track suspicious money transfers in the banking system.

Did these news stories exhibit real investigatory excellence and enterprise or were they simply—like the Nobel Peace prizes to Carter, Gore and Obama—evidence of a certain political predilection?

Can we imagine the 1945 Pulitzer Prize panel giving an award to a newspaper that disclosed Allied preparations for D-Day, or a 1946 Pulitzer jury bestowing an award that revealed the secrets of America’s nuclear bomb program before Harry Truman decided he was going to bomb Hiroshima and shock the Japanese into surrender?

These  awards and their panels have become little more than labels. Like the terms “moderate,” “extremist,” “conservative” and “liberal,” the terms “Pulitzer-prize-winning” and “Nobel-Prize-winning” tell us more about those labeling and awarding than those being labeled.

To understand what’s for real under the label or the prize, we need to do some investigating: to investigate the motives of those attaching the label or bestowing the award.

When President Barack Obama recently gave the U.S. Medal of Freedom to Israeli President Shimon Peres, it was a good way for Obama to make a gesture to U.S. Jews and other supporters of Israel in an election year. But does the award itself prove that Peres succeeded in winning freedom or peace?

After all, Peres’s biggest achievement is authoring the PLO-Israeli pacts known as “The Oslo Accords” of 1993. They were a big hit in Norway, and Peres won a Nobel Peace prize for his part. Yet, the treaties led to the most blood-soaked decade in Israel’s history as a state. Peres and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin trusted the good will of Yasser Arafat and his PLO.

Peres tried to block the 1981 Israeli attack on Saddam Hussein’s atomic reactor that ended Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. By giving Peres a medal, Obama shows he likes “peacemakers” who avoid attacking dictators’ nuclear reactors (Attention: Iran). Obama’s medal to Peres also hints it is not so terrible to trust terrorists and dictators, to give them a second and third chance even if thousands of people end up paying with their lives.

Yes, another award-winning moment.

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