Challenge: Why did Arafat Receive a Nobel Prize, and Not Reagan?

Yesterday, I was challenged by Caleb Howe, the legitimate face of RedState’s evil empire,  to explain why Yasser Arafat, former President of the PLO, deserved a Nobel Prize, but President Ronald Reagan did not. Naturally, I accepted the challenge: due to some faulty assumptions embedded in the question, this should be pretty easy.

First, Yasser Arafat died never having received a Nobel Prize. At least, not in his own right. It’s a common misconception that Arafat received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. That year, he did receive 1/3 of the Prize, but only in his capacity as a negotiating party to the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993. He shared the prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres of Israel. Rabin, of course, would later be assassinated by a right-wing Israeli militant, in a tragic reminder that peace requires participation on both sides.

One can question whether Arafat’s intentions in negotiating the accords were ever pure, and whether he ever intended to live up to his end of the bargain. The Oslo Accords, we well know, would shortly break down and come to naught, especially after the Palestinian National Authority’s 2006 elections yielded a Hamas victory — another reminder that democracy has its disadvantages — resulting shortly in across-the-board violence.

Despite the Accords’ eventual failure, Arafat’s role in the Oslo Accords resulted in the first face-to-face meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leadership, an official recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and a renunciation — at least on paper — of terrorism. Many of these promises have failed. But in 1994, the Nobel committee was reasonable in believing peace to be within reach, and crediting Arafat at least partially for that remarkable possibility. For his part, Arafat himself regarded the Prize as aspirational rather than declaratory: a challenge to be lived up to, and not a reward for a fait accompli. Whether his future conduct rendered him a poor choice for (a 1/3 portion of) the Nobel Peace Prize, the Oslo Accords were, in 1994, a great step forward, and the Nobel Committee was right to recognize it.

And so we come to Reagan. Today’s Reagan mythology, of a tough-talking pro-business market-builder, a founder of “compassionate conservatism,” is just that. The rich/poor gap increased drastically on Reagan’s watch, as real wages actually declined; he wasn’t much of a deregulator; he invented the modern budget deficit; and he wasn’t even that popular, in or out of office. Basically, he was a domestic disaster, who stepped into office in 1981 to take credit for the end of the late ’70s economic slump, already in the process of resolving itself (his inauguration coincided with a drop in worldwide oil prices), and went on to create the early ’90s slump that would kill his immediate successor, pave the way for President Clinton, and set in motion the events that would lead to our current predicament. Meanwhile, he ignored the growing AIDS crisis, and dealt with terrorists to fund other terrorists in contravention of express law to the contrary. His contributions to the Cold War were to provoke Russia with a profoundly ineffectual but politically costly missile defense program, and to inhabit the Oval Office at the same time as a reformist Russian leader (Gorbachev), allowing him to take credit for a collapse that was, by that time and all reports, already inevitable. Nothing special, or profoundly peaceful. The question, it seems, isn’t why Reagan didn’t get a Nobel Prize, but why the hell we still have schools and airports named after the guy.

But for one thing. After playing the part of a rabid, right-wing anticommunist for his first term, President Reagan had, by his second turn, determined that Mikhail Gorbachev was something special — not a shoe-banging, fire-breathing Communist, but a reformer with a legitimate interest in peace. In his second term, Reagan met with Gorbachev and Soviet leaders (*gasp!*) without preconditions, advocated for a world without nuclear weapons, and otherwise gave Gorbachev the breathing room he needed to work for peace. This, of course, was met with incredulous rage on the right, because how dare he?! And so we get the “Tear Down This Wall” speech — not an earth-shattering demand that singlehandedly laid low the Soviet Union (after a twenty-nine month lag time) — but an attempt to slake the blood-thirsty right, and provide political cover for his new policy of engagement.

Did Reagan deserve the Nobel Prize? Probably not. His late change of heart on how best to handle the Soviet Union lets him claim to have assisted, but not set in motion, communism’s dramatic fall. Set against his profoundly negative domestic actions, and the remainder of his international failings, this lets him crawl slightly closer to a net value of zero on the “hero or villain” scale.

A thought experiment, though. Imagine that Reagan had no impact on America’s domestic prosperity, positive or negative, and had done nothing other than engage Russian leaders as peers. Well, then Reagan might deserve the Nobel, and so would Obama.



  1. Where as Gorbachev did receive a piece prize for his part in dismantling the Soviet Union. Seems like the committee gives credit where the credit is actually due and not where the spin merchants try to paint it. I still don’t get Obama though, however the idea of Reagan is laughable.

  2. Based on the criteria used this year, Reagan, (and I would also add Margaret Thatcher) most certainly did deserve the prize for their words even if their deeds fell short. Both were strong anti-communist voices and regardless of whether or not the USSR would have fell without them, they were important players in the Cold War and it was their support that enabled countries like poland to escape tyranny.

    What’s most enlightening given yesterday’s bizarre turn of events is the way that the prize is now being scrutinized so strongly. It’s become a sad mockery of what it once was and now a mere political statement given out yearly by a hyper-liberal government. Perhaps in this age something like the MacArthur Genius Grants are much more important for our future than the Nobel.

    1. Jesus, Mike. At the rate you guys are producing sour grapes, someone’s going to have to worry about the American wine industry. Seriously, try to set aside your hatred of Obama for a second, and be happy for the country. Whether or not he deserved it by your or anyone else’s rubric, this is unequivocally good for America, in the eyes of the world. American soft power has been sorely lacking for years — “you forgot Poland” — and that’s had repercussions at home, too. Consider, for a moment, that while we’re still waiting for Obama to kick ass & take names as we know he can, the mere fact that he exists, and displaced the Bush/Cheney crowd, is viewed as a serious plus to the rest of the civilized world. I mean, really: even if we’re still practicing some form of detention, at least we feel bad about it now. That’s a step forwards, and a pretty profound one. The world regained a willing partner for peace. That’s worth something.

      1. What matters about soft power? It doesn’t enable you to destroy your enemies or reward your friends, and it’s disconnected from the will to do either. Seems pointless to me.

      2. Hearts and minds, Steve. You can’t get anywhere without hearts and minds. That’s as old as Sun Tzu.

        Or to use the Joseph Nye Equation: Hard Power + Soft Power = Smart Power.

        1. Hearts and minds are won by giving tangible answers to “what have you done for me lately” – and that’s hard power, not soft power.

          Not to mention Machiavelli’s “better to be feared than loved” and Mao’s barrel of a gun…

          1. More importantly, Machiavelli emphasized the importance of balance between fear and love – you cannot rule with all one at the expense of the other. For if you rule with only love, you will not command respect and loyalty enough when times turn bad. And if you rule with only fear, the hatred it engenders may exceed the fear and lead to total rebellion.

      3. Why should we be happy as a country? As Jason Peters at Front Porch Republic said:

        “One suspects that the Nobel committee was trying to make a reasonable statement: “we just want you ill-educated Play-Station American adolescents to know how glad we are that you had the good sense to elect this guy after being stupid enough to elect—twice—a war-mongering empire-building moron who doesn’t speak English as well as we do.”

        Let’s be honest. Liberals read that statement and they agree 100% with the sentiments Peters acribes to the committee. That in itself is kind of sad. Personally I don’t need the approval of Norway to feel good about our country.

        The point that most liberals are missing in their knee-jerk reaction to the Right’s disapproval is that we aren’t criticizing the President beyond his poor choice of accepting the award. We’re primarily pointing out what a farce the award itself has become and how the world has bought into Obama’s celebrity.

        1. 12StringNC · ·

          The knee-jerk in the wake of the deserved presentation of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to our President is ALL from the knees of the right-wingers, who react swiftly and vehemently (barely able to contain their spittle). It’s been the same crap ever since President Obama took office, and it IS racism, no matter how you slice it.
          A Caucasian president Democratic President wouldn’t get the same treatment from the wingnuts (except maybe Hillary Clinton) because they (wingnuts) would possibly show some respect for the office and the office-holder.

      4. Amy Davis · ·

        barf. peace is only achieved through strength. Based on Carter’s/Clinton’s and Obama’s presidency (thus far)…strength is something they were/are lacking. It’s funny how the American people always make the same mistake every few decades (liberal congress/liberal executive branch)…they quickly balance the power in the next election. The GOP’s 1993 playbook is making a comeback in 2010…and it’ll work. So much for Obama’s “soft power” approach.

    2. …a mere political statement given out yearly by a hyper-liberal government…

      Wrong. The committee consists of members from all parties in the Storting, from the left to the right, and they almost always decide on the Laureate by unanimous vote.

      Besides, the Prize has always been a political statement, because that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.

    3. Steve Jeffers · ·

      There are some touchstones in this world – if you ever find yourself thinking the Vatican’s too soft on women or gays, Hollywood is ‘anti American’, or that the Nobel Peace Prize or BBC are pursuing some crazy radical agenda, it says way, way, *way* more about you than any of those organizations.

      The Nobel committee has always liked (1) nuclear disarmament, (2) action on climate change, (3) talks in the Middle East, (4) peace initiatives based on disarming, not accelerating an arms race (this is why Reagan didn’t get it – for does not the Conservative Book of Reagan say “verily, St Ronald’s insistence on the holy SDI of Antioch did deliberately cost so much that keeping up effectively bankrupted the USSR and, honestly, that was the plan all along. Yes it was. It was the secret plan. Shut up, yes it was”?, (5) hope, and the sense that the Prize might encourage future action and (6) someone actually integrating America into the world (Al Gore won his prize for basically just telling Americans what everyone else in the world knew, accepted and proved twenty years before).

      And Obama hits all those bases, when you usually win it for one. ‘Deserve?’ … well, it’s a Prize. Return of the King didn’t deserve those Oscars.

      War Isn’t Peace. For that matter, the Cold War didn’t end under Reagan, it ended under the first Bush. And completely caught him out. The Pope and the Republicans have claimed they won it, but … well, the facts say something different.

      1. Amy Davis · ·

        Gore??? Really??? Is that why Gore and his cohorts have changed “global warming” to “Climate change??”. Yeah, us wingnuts as well as all sane people already believed in climate change! News flash, what critical news will he tell us next? The ship sinks at the end of the Titanic movie?

    4. Shade Tail · ·

      You could completely fill a toilet bowl with that load, Mike. Despite the right-wing extremists shrieking otherwise, “anti-communism” does not equal “peace”. Indeed, the exact opposite is true, a fact that is easy to prove. Your “strong anti-communist voices” did occasionally bring us to the brink of nuclear annihilation (Cuban Missile Crisis says hello), after all.

      Regan deserves credit for changing his tone with Gorbachev; he might have been a war-monger, but he wasn’t the mindless arm-chair warrior so many of you right-wingers are. But you’re merely trying to rewrite history by singing Regan’s praises. We’re not going to be so easily fooled as you seem to hope.

      1. If you can rewrite the bible to remove any of Jesus’s liberal dogma (damn those poor people he always wanted to feed, and don’t start me on the the whole leper thing), rewriting history is a total piece of (yellow)cake.

  3. The question why Reagan did not get a Nobel Peace Prize should be answered with a question. Shouldn’t he have won an Oscar first?

    1. rottenmac · ·

      “The question why Reagan did not get a Nobel Peace Prize should be answered with a question. Shouldn’t he have won an Oscar first?”

      That is so full of iWin, I don’t know where to begin…

      As for Reagan not getting it, see also Iran-Contra; FAA/Air Controller Union-busting; I’m sure there are more examples, but those two alone shoulmore than nullify any interaction he might have had in regards to communism.

      Also as was said in ‘Clue’, “Communism was nothing more than a red herring.”

  4. Thanks – that’s one of the better concise summaries of the Reagan Administration I’ve seen. Will Bunch’s book Tear Down This Myth is pretty good.

    1. It is! As you can probably tell, I’m a fan. I think it could’ve been great, though, but ends up being merely good. Ah well.

  5. George Frideric · ·

    Other reasons Reagan never won the Nobel Peace Prize include the invasion of Grenada (to distract the public from the fact that terrorists had just killed over 200 Marines in Lebanon), providing arms and aid to Saddam Hussein in the Iran/Iraq War, simultaneously selling arms surreptitiously to Iran in the whole Iran/Contra affair, and supporting repressive regimes in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

  6. You join the long list of people who mistakenly believe that Arafat agreed to Israel’s right to exist. Here are a couple of brief excerpts from the Palestinian National Charter as it exists today:

    “Article 1: Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people; it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation.

    Article 2: Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.

    Article 3: The Palestinian Arab people possess the legal right to their homeland and have the right to determine their destiny after achieving the liberation of their country in accordance with their wishes and entirely of their own accord and will.

    Article 9: Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.”

    I am confident that this is enough to make my point.

  7. I hope and pray that Reagan is roasting in the flames of hell, even as we speak.
    He was a monster. How many tens of thousands of men, women and children died in his “dirty wars” in Central America and around the world?
    After GWB, I’d say that Reagan is the worst (and most evil) U.S. president ever.

    1. And let me guess, after Reagan comes another Republican? Nixon maybe? How about Bush Sr.? Hoover?

      1. Shade Tail · ·

        Oh dear! It turns out that war-mongers and elitist America-haters tend to be Republicans! And some liberal is **POINTING THAT OUT**!!

        Clutch those pearls tight, Mike!!

  8. NoOneYouKnow · ·

    Well, for third most evil, I’d have to go with GHW Bush. Running a coke-smuggling operation out of the White House is pretty evil, especially as it was for (er, mostly–some of those profits went to other good causes. Like the Bush family.) the benefit of Reagan’s terrorists in Central America.
    But really, there’s so much evil been in the White House. Andrew Johnson (letting the South off the hook after Lincoln’s assassination), Andrew Jackson (the Trail of Tears), Roosevelt (the massacres in the Phillipines)…

    1. Amy Davis · ·

      You’re right about “evil in the white house”. Funny how libs forget what the democratic party has stood for the past century or so. FDR invented “welfare recipients”, The dems stood for Jim Crow laws and slavery for pre/during and post civil war, and democratic president Truman was the first to order the use of a nuclear weapon that killed more than 220,000 people. In true liberal fashion—all facts should be “swept under the rug”.

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