Sunday, October 18, 2009

How Obama Can Earn his Nobel Prize

[originally published in The Los Angeles Times, 18 October 2009]

Many people, including the president himself, were surprised this month when the Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to Barack Obama. His critics — as well as some supporters — questioned whether he deserved it. It was too soon, they said; he’d done too little. We posed a question to a variety of experts: What should the president do to earn the prize?

Ariel Dorfman: Focus on Latin America
Yossi Klein Halevi: Stop Iran
Jonathan Turley: Appoint a prosecutor for war crimes
Saree Makdisi: Change our useless Mideast policies
Michael Scheuer: Refuse the prize
Kennette Benedict: He’s already done so much

Change Washington’s useless Mideast policies

Saree Makdisi

President Obama would deserve the Nobel Peace Prize if he made a serious effort to help bring peace to the Middle East. He could begin by changing U.S. policies that uselessly embitter people and offer zero benefit to the United States.

In my grandparents’ time, people throughout the Arab and Muslim world looked to America as a beacon of light and hope: the great antithesis of the European empire builders. That attitude changed only when it became clear, after the destruction of Palestine in 1948, that America’s values are one thing and its policies quite another.

All Obama has to do is bring America’s policies in the greater Middle East into alignment with our values.

In Pakistan, he should end the catastrophic population displacements and immense human degradation and suffering that are a direct result of these policies, which are not President George W. Bush’s but his own.

In Afghanistan, he should end the war now — beginning with the absurd missile attacks and air raids that have killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children since he came to office — and contribute as much to help rebuild the country as he had been planning to spend on expanding the carnage.

And in Palestine and Israel — the source of much of the region’s unrest — he should end the shell game of trying to split a tiny piece of land into ethnic islands and instead bring about the creation of a single democratic and secular state for both Palestinians and Israelis that treats all of its citizens equally: the greatest of all American values.