Nobel Peace Prize as warning

I'd like to be able to boast about having included the European Union on my "Handicapping the Nobel Peace Prize" list earlier this week, but given that I put it in the longshot category alongside WikiLeaks and Willie Nelson, I can't really claim to be too prescient. (There's always next year, Willie!)

My colleague Dan Drezner complains,  "It's for things the EU did in the past.  In contrast, Obama's peace prize was suggestive of things he would do in the future.  There's no consistency." But there hasn't really been a clear or consistent set of criteria for winning the prize for quite some time. 

Alfred Nobel's will specified that the prize should be given to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” But since the 1960s, the prize has just as often been given to individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Andrei Sakharov, or Liu Xiaobo, who were recognized primarily for advancing human rights or general welfare within a particular country.

So often a large part of the interpretation for any year's prize is devoted not just to why the person or insitution deserved to win, but to what message the prize committee was looking to send. With Al Gore and IPCC, it was to highlight climate change. With Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, it was to highlight women's rights struggles around the world. With Barack Obama, it was to say, "Thank God George Bush isn't president anymore."

I think the most generous interpretation of this year's award is that it's a reminder to euroskeptics of what the continent looked like in the half century before the European integration project kicked off.  As chairman Thorbjorn Jagland put it, “The dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe. Over a 70-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today, war between Germany and France is unthinkable.” He continued: “We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes. There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization.”

(I can't claim any expertise on Norwegian politics, but I would also be curious where the members of the comittee stand on the debate over membership in the E.U. The Labour and Conservative parties, which are generally pro-European, control three of the five seats on the committee. )

Jagland's argument is a reasonable one. But as Ronald Krebs pointed out in a 2009 FP piece, the prize often carries unintended consequences for winners. For dissidents like Liu, Sakharov, and Aung San Suu Kyi, it often encourages autocratic governments to crack down further. For powerful leaders, it provides a near-impossible standard to live up to. Obama, for one, likely wishes his critics on both the right and left didn't have the prize to bring out as a punchline every time they attack his foreign policy.

It would be nice to think the Nobel will encourage European leaders to remember the positive accomplishments of integration along with its obvious drawbacks. But it seems just as likely to only throw more fuel on an already combustible situation.


Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Ryan contradicts Romney on Mubarak

It might be time for Romney staffers to get on a conference call and coordinate the campaign's position on the Arab Spring. 

When moderator Martha Raddatz asked Paul Ryan during the vice-presidential debate on Thursday night if it was ever appropriate for the United States to apologize to other countries, the Republican congressman criticized the Obama administration for its delay in calling for then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down:

What we should not be apologizing for are standing up for our values. What we should not be doing is saying to the Egyptian people, while Mubarak is cracking down on them, that he's a good guy and, in the next week, say he ought to go.

The problem with that response is that it seems to contradict statements running mate Mitt Romney made ahead of a visit to Israel this summer. In an interview with Israel Hayom, the GOP presidential candidate declared that the Arab Spring "is not appropriately named" because of Islamist victories in the region and suggested that Mubarak could have been persuaded to reform, had President Obama not bungled the effort:

President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.

Romney surrogate John Bolton made Romney's point more explicitly during a Fox News interview with Greta Van Susteren shortly after the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya last month:

VAN SUSTEREN: But why is that the catalyst? I mean, like, the Arab spring that everyone started in Tunisia -- I mean, what -- was there anything that we could have done to sort of change the course of history?

BOLTON: Well, I think what we saw there was the risk to Mubarak. And instead of supporting a loyal ally who had upheld the Camp David accord, after vacillating three or four times in the course of a month, we threw Mubarak over the edge. And he had said for years, If I go, the Muslim Brotherhood's taking over.

Oh, no, said the Obama administration. Oh no, said many people in America. The Google guy is going to emerge in Egypt. He's going to be the new leader. People who tweet will be the new leaders. Do you see them anywhere today? They are off the stage.

Romney, who has also implied that the Obama administration is to blame for the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt, didn't always hold these views about the Arab Spring. In early February 2011, only days before the White House called for Mubarak's resignation, the former Massachusetts governor sounded a bit more like Paul Ryan on Thursday night. It was time, he explained, for Mubarak to "step out of the way or lead the transition," and for the United States to "make it very clear to the people of Egypt that we stand with the voices of democracy and freedom." While Mubarak needed to "move on," he added, Obama should not explicitly call for the Egyptian leader's resignation because of the friendship Mubarak had long shown to the United States (during the same period, Ryan stoked controversy by comparing public workers protests in Wisconsin to the demonstrations in Cairo).

More than a year-and-a-half later, the candidates appear to still be ironing out their positions.

Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images