Giving Obama the Nobel Peace Prize is like giving someone the literature prize because you hope he writes some good books.
He doesn’t even have to be an aspiring writer. To say Obama aspires to peace is to ignore his escalation of the occupation of Afghanistan.
It may be a joke, but the Norwegians have told more morbid ones: Roosevelt in 1906 and Kissinger in 1973 both had records far more blood-soaked than anything Obama has had time for.
But he has had time to make an impact on people such as Awal Khan, who might want to weigh in on Obama’s prize.
Khan was serving as an artillery commander in the Afghan National Army away from his home in the eastern province of Khost on April 8, when U.S. forces came knocking. In a case of “wrong house,” they killed his 17-year-old daughter, Nadia, and his 15-year-old son, Aimal. They also killed his wife, a schoolteacher who taught villagers for free. They killed his brother and wounded another daughter.
After she thought the dust had cleared, Khan’s cousin’s wife walked outside. She was nine-months pregnant. She took five shots to the stomach. Her fetus died, but she lived. She might have some thoughts on Obama as a man who “created a new climate,” as the Nobel committee claimed.
U.S. military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian said the slaughtered family had no connection to U.S. enemies. “It was an unfortunate set of circumstances,” he said.
A grieving Khan told Agence France-Press, “The (international) coalition has to stop this cruelty and brutal action.”
Khan is not likely to get his wish from Obama. Even in his announcement that he would accept the prize, Obama resorted hawk talk: “I am the Commander-in-Chief of a country that’s … working … to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies.”
That is audacity. At its greatest, the threat to the American people from the Taliban is indirect. And whatever the risk in pulling out, it’s something we have to live with. To say that it’s worth thousands of dead civilians to possibly reduce an indirect risk to Americans makes sense only in the twisted nationalistic calculus in which an American life is worth many foreign lives. A peace prize should go only to someone who believes in the following math: 1 human life = 1 human life.
Perhaps the only reason we know the name Awal Khan is that he was an army colonel. The Khost Provincial Council closed its offices for a month in protest. Provincial councils of Laghman, Logar and Zabol have closed their offices to protest other civilian killings. And Obama is still listening to military advisers talk about how the secret to counterinsurgency is winning over hearts and minds.
There are thousands of less “important” people we could interview. We could talk to the families of 95 children reported killed in a U.S. attack on May 4 and 5 in western Farah province. A list of the dead, with names and ages, was compiled by an Afghan government commission based on the testimony of villagers, said Obaidullah Helali, a lawmaker from Farah and a member of the government’s investigative team.
To see how things look from an Afghan perspective, why not read the independent newspaper Cheragh? Perhaps Obama would return his medal if he read the May 7 editorial on “the killing of so many humans, chopped bodies without coffins, and the orphaned children and widows. In reality, voices and murmurs are choked with pain, and pens are unable to write about it.”
Compare that to Obama’s voice on the subject. Does someone who calls the occupation of Afghanistan “a war of necessity” and adds tens of thousands more troops to it have something to do with “the abolition or reduction of standing armies,” as Alfred Nobel stipulated for the prize in his will?
In a Pew Global Attitudes survey in June 2009, a plurality or majority in every one of the 25 countries surveyed was opposed to increasing troops in Afghanistan. An overwhelming majority of Pakistanis oppose the drone attacks that Obama has launched. With 58 percent of Americans now opposing the war, one wonders why Obama will not listen to anyone arguing what seems so clear: that the United States has no business being in Afghanistan.
Instead of listening to the left, most of which is still stunned by his ethnicity as if hit with a cartoon frying pan, Obama wants to placate the right. Like a long line of liberals before him, he’s worried about looking weak. He has hesitated on Honduras, waffled on Guantanamo, and exacerbated Afghanistan. This is discouraging news for peacemongers. As Lou Brock said, “Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.”
Even U.S. Puppet Hamid Karzai has had enough with the civilian dead. In 2005 he said, “I don’t think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore.” In 2007: “The Afghan people understand that mistakes are made. But five years on, six years on, definitely, very clearly, they cannot comprehend as to why there is still a need for air power.” On Nov. 5, 2008, after U.S. warplanes killed 23 women and 10 children at a wedding party, he said: “This is my first demand of the new president of the United States: to put an end to civilian casualties.”
Karzai knows it can’t happen. Obama has taken withdrawal off the table, and as long as there is an occupation, civilians will be killed. Obama likely will be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people before he leaves office.
“Washington keeps bombarding residential areas in the country without paying any attention to the objections,” said the May 7 editorial in Cheragh after the slaughter in Farah. Karzai is “sacrificing the people before the lords of the White House…. Can the US separate the people from the Taleban and Al Qa’idah, with the slogan that they are your killers and we are your saviours?! What a futile fancy and unrealizable ambitions.”
Instead of blindly chasing hawks, Obama needs to listen to Afghan Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai, who told the Christian Science Monitor that instead of sending 30,000 new troops, Obama should “send us 30,000 scholars… Or 30,000 engineers. But don’t send more troops — it will just bring more violence.”
The original Nobel committees of the first five years had it right. They gave peace prizes to people we’ve never heard of, but people who were warriors for peace. Norway was a part of Sweden at the time. Nobel, a Swedish arms trader and inventor of dynamite, is thought to have charged Norway with giving out the peace prize because it had no foreign-relations apparatus, so that its committee might be neutral. There seemed to be an implicit recognition that the nation-state and peace are like a shark and a leg, and that statesmen did not qualify for the award. But then Norway became independent and the next year tried to buy a big friend by giving the award to Teddy Roosevelt, opening the door to playing politics with the prize.
Obama has said he’ll give the $1.4 million purse to charity. With the United States giving a $2,000 condolence payment to the family of each civilian it kills in Afghanistan, that would pay for 700 lives.
Or he could give it to Dr. Sima Samar, to name one of thousands of more-deserving people. After graduating from medical school in Kabul in 1982, she has given her life to providing health care to women in Afghanistan and, chased into exile, in Pakistan. She’s won a slew of awards over the past 15 years for her bravery and work, but not the Nobel. She has brought peace to a lot of people. And she’s not likely to occupy any countries any time soon.
BRENDAN COONEY is an anthropologist living in New York City. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org