The Corner

What Was Norway Thinking?

I wondered first if the Nobel decision was a calculated snub to Gordon Brown, who literally saved the world. Then I realized I should ask my good friend Lene Johansen, a Norwegian-born writer currently based in Philadelphia, just what the Norwegian-based committee thought it was doing. Here’s her response in full:

There were a few critics in Norway when Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but the Obama award is quite different. Members of parliament have been sending out incredulous tweets all morning, and the national subject matter experts are surprised and say Obama does not have a sufficient track record yet.

One of the most outspoken critics is Jan Arild Snoen, president of American-Norwegian friendship organization Monticello Society and editor of the political magazine Minerva.

“This is a scandal,” He said to Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. “It is a ‘peace and war and stuff’ award. The committee continues the star power strategy that started with Gore receiving the Prize.”

Nils Buthenschøn, president of the Human Rights Institute expresses a similar sentiment in the same story. “It seems like the committee wanted to award the Prize to the American president to confirm the status of the Prize rather than the worthiness of the candidate”, he says

They do have a point; Obama had been in office 11 days when the nomination deadline came around on February 1. Europe and Norway was suffering from an Obama fever that only could be matched by the U.S. fever right around Election Day. The love affair still persists among the political class, because they admire the political craftsmanship of his campaign. This might be the official “world” endorsement of Obama’s presidency; since they still are sore they could not vote in the U.S. election.

Europeans also adore Obama for shifting the U.S. political focus to the left. Norwegian politicians are no exception, and Norway continues to rank #1 on UNDP’s Development Index. This index measures how much a government assists its citizens, while Norway barely makes it into the ranks of mostly free countries on the Economic Freedom Index. The adoration for Obama’s re-orientation of U.S. Politics is evident in the announcement.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the committee states. “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

One person that did predict this result was Gerhard Helskog, an experienced reporter covering the foreign desk for TV2, the largest private newsnetwork in Norway. He said the new committee chair, Torbjørn Jagland like to think big, and Obama was big in Jagland’s eyes.

Jagland is a former prime minister and was recently elected new General Secretary of the Council of Europe. He received critique for staying in the post as Nobel Committee chair after accepting this position. Norwegian experts feared that leadership of an international political organization would lead people to question the independence of the Nobel Committee.

Alfred Nobel’s reason for letting the Norwegian Parliament handle the peace price was that Norway did not have an independent foreign policy at the time. The Prize would therefore be handled by a politically independent body. This award makes it clear this is no longer the case.

Several experts, including head of Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs Jan Egeland and head of the International Peace Research Institute, Kristian Berg Harpviken, thought the Committee would give out a “traditional” peace prize again this year. Last year’s prize was traditional; it went to Martti Ahtisaari, who brokered peace in Kosovo in 2005. Most people probably never even heard of this former Finnish president.

“I don’t think Jagland referred to a celebrity when he said the choice will be noticed internationally,” Harpviken said to Aftenposten earlier this week. “I think it means a winner with a broad base of support.”

Boy was he wrong. Jagland is continuing the tradition with celebrity winners. Snide tweets from Norway this morning said any world politician that Jagland wanted to dine with should watch out, because they are all future candidates.

I think Hellskog was kind when he thought a Prize would be a recognition of America’s leadership in the world. Helskog spent many years here as a correspondent and has expressed great love for the U.S. Personally, I don’t believe this is a recognition of U.S. leadership role, but the world embracing us for joining the flock. That is a recognition no American president ought to accept.


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