So, is there a Nobel Peace Prize looming in President Donald Trump’s future?
After all, his predecessor in the White House was awarded one merely for turning up to work. President Barack Obama was nominated two weeks after he had taken office in 2009 and was handed the prize eight months later.
The decision to honour Obama was contentious, even within the award committee, because it was so obviously based not on what he had done but what he might do. They got swept up in the adulation and optimism triggered by the election of the first black president of the United States.
The citation made as gourmet a meal as it could of small scraps, writing that Obama’s award was “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to [his] vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” But their strongest motivation was captured elsewhere in the citation. “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.”
Based on these reasons, had Obama not been awarded the Peace Prize so hastily in 2009, it is unlikely that he would have been considered for it at the end of his term. While it is true that he did during his two terms strengthen multinational institutions and cross-national approaches to intractable problems such as climate change, Obama would have confounded Nobel hopes with his surprising bellicosity.
He failed to end US involvement in Iraq and Iran as promised. Then there were military interventions in Egypt, Libya and Syria that were disastrous.
As the journal Democracy assessed it in a generally positive article on Obama’s performance, “Obama’s response to threats … reinforced and even intensified the military face Washington presented to the world (as funding for US diplomacy and development aid stagnated) … He presided over exponential growth in the use of targeted killing, drones, and special forces around the world and made a late decision to invest in a massive and expensive upgrade of US nuclear forces.”
Obama’s attempts at peace between the Israelis and Palestinians were similar failures. Harvard’s Stephen Walt wrote in Foreign Policy: “Israeli settlements kept expanding, Gaza kept getting pummelled, moderate Palestinians were discredited, Hamas grew stronger, and the two-state solution that Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Obama all favoured is now dead … The Middle East will be in even worse shape when [Obama] leaves office than it was when he arrived.”
And where Obama arguably did succeed in foreign policy — ties with Cuba, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accord — Trump immediately repudiated the agreements. Fortunately for Obama and several previous Peace Prize winners, that their Nobels cannot be revoked when later events overtake and tarnish the basis on which they won.
The question then is, is there any hope for Trump of replicating Obama’s achievement? Or to put it differently, if an internationally admired president can get a Nobel for nothing, can an internationally despised president get it for something?
Trump’s nomination, which is for next year’s prize, is based on the president’s brokering of the so-called Abraham Accords Peace Agreement, the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the one side and Israel on the other. In return, Israel will halt further annexation of Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank. Trump says that similar deals are in the pipeline with other Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia.
The Middle East, not surprisingly given the explosive nature of its ancient conflicts, has featured in a number of Nobel Peace Prizes. In 1978 it was shared by Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin for the Camp David peace agreement. And in 1994 it was shared by Palestine’s Yasser Arafat and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, for the Oslo Accords.
But it’s very unlikely that Trump could make the cut, given his disdain for multilateralism and nuclear arms treaties alone. There is also his confrontational and unnerving erraticism, as shown in the kiss-kill-kiss relationship with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and the threats to China over Taiwan. Perhaps more than anything, Trump’s style just does not fit the template of the world’s oldest and most prestigious award — he’s just too crass and unpleasant to pass muster.
However, that doesn’t mean that Trump might not deserve it. The New York Times, one of Trump’s most strident critics, grudgingly concedes that the Accord is “a breakthrough and long overdue” but argues that it is “far-fetched” that he, or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserve the Peace prize.
Part of their reasoning is the Accords don’t bring peace because the three countries involved have never been in military conflict. The Accords also make only a “perfunctory nod” to what Middle East peace means — peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
It is true that the Palestinians, as well as their vocal support networks around the world, loathe the resumption of such full diplomatic ties. They’ve called it a “black day in the history of the people of Palestine” and a “stab in the back” by friends.
They’re absolutely right. But sometimes it takes such an Et tu, Brute moment to shake loose the shackles of some of the entrenched, delusionary obsessions — for example, that Palestine can recover its 1948 borders — that bedevilled all the peace processes to date.
Although there has been a over the past decade a slow and covert rapprochement between Israel and its Arab neighbours, the only diplomatic relationships, prior the Abraham Agreement, was with Egypt in 1970 and Jordan and Jordan in 1994. In fact, the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative of almost two decades ago established as the baseline that until there was an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no Arab state would establish diplomatic ties with Israel.
Trump has now flipped that on its head, putting great political pressure on the Palestinians. If more Arab states sign up, that pressure will increase exponentially. The Accords are an uncomfortable reality check for the Palestinian hardliners.
While a Nobel Peace Prize would of course delight Trump and make him even more insufferable than he is already, what is of more concern to him right now is winning a second term in November. He will be counting on the Abraham Accords to help narrow the lead that Joe Biden holds over him going into the final stretch.
By the time that next year’s Nobel prizes are announced, one will have a far better sense of the success or failure of the Accords. The odds are that Trump — deserving or not — will be not be the Peace laureate. But then again, he may not even be the president of the United States.
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