Premature Peace Prize or Call to Action? Or Both? Peace Actionistas Speak Out!

 In Afghanistan, diplomacy, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, Obama, Pakistan, Palestine, Peace, Peace Action, war profiteers

President Obama’s being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace has elicited all kinds of responses from peace activists, especially in the Peace Action family, which is great! We’ve gotten some good media coverage on this, including Political Director Paul Kawika Martin on ABC Nightly News last Friday, a quote in an Associated Press interview, and several radio interviews. Below are a few items: an op-ed by Medea Benjamin and me, a story by NBC Action News in Kansas City quoting Kris Cheatum of our affiliate there, Peace Works Kansas City, and a comment by Glen Stassen of the Peace Action Education Fund Board of Directors.

Premature Peace Prize or Call to Action?
By Kevin Martin and Medea Benjamin

Published by Common Dreams at

Medea Benjamin is Cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace ( and the human rights group Global Exchange ( <> ). She just returned from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan.

Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members nationwide. He has been a peace and justice activist for 25 years.

As we demonstrated at the White House last Monday calling for an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, we could hardly have imagined President Barack Obama would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize four days later.

While the award came as a surprise, it is somewhat understandable. We have met and conversed with peace activists from around the world over the last year, and we’ve observed a palpable, nearly desperate, universal hunger (obviously shared by the Nobel Committee) for a more peaceful, less militaristic U.S. foreign policy.

Reaction to the announcement has been predictably mixed. A better question than “Does Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?” might be “will the American people insist he pursue peaceful policies so he really earns the Peace Prize?” Or even better, “Are we prepared to be a truly peaceful country?” Because despite the welcome change in tone, and in some policies, from Bush to Obama, the United States remains, by far, the most militaristic country on the planet.

The U.S. annually spends over $700 billion on war and weaponry, nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world’s countries combined. The U.S. maintains over 800 foreign military bases. The purpose of most of these bases is to project our power in order to maintain our unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels. Our top industrial export to the rest of the world is weaponry.

Despite President Obama’s inspiring rhetoric about seeking a nuclear weapons-free world, the U.S. still maintains over 10,000 nuclear weapons, many still inexplicably poised on hair-trigger alert to launch on a few minutes’ notice. Our seemingly endless occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, blank-check support for Israel even as it continues to oppress the Palestinian people, and support for despotic, autocratic, human rights-abusing regimes in the Middle East (such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) are the chief recruiting arguments for violent extremist groups. These policies, among others, are undemocratic, short-sighted and inimical to the security interests of Americans.

We agree with President Obama that the Peace Prize is a “call to action.” Here’s a to-do list, for him and for all of us:

Afghanistan: ¬Declare any further escalation of U.S. troops, currently under consideration by the Administration, off the table; convene and vigorously support peace talks aimed at political reconciliation, enhanced security, support for women’s rights, and economic development. Provide Congress and the American public an exit plan to remove U.S. and NATO troops and private military contractors from Afghanistan.

Iraq: Bring private military contractors and all U.S. troops, not just combat troops, home by August 2010. Commit to a serious investment in rebuilding Iraq’s economy, and take care of our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Close all U.S. military bases.

Iran: Continue the current promising negotiations with Iran and foreswear any possibility of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israel-Palestine: Insist that Israel end the economic strangulation of Gaza, stop all settlement construction and house demolitions in the West Bank, end the evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, and work tirelessly for a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Don’t cave in to Israeli intransigence-we could, after all, refuse to pay for this anymore.

Nuclear disarmament: Back up the strong rhetoric by initiating negotiations for the global elimination of nuclear weapons at or before next May’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. The incremental nuclear weapons reductions and strengthened non-proliferation measures President Obama has announced are good, but they do not go far enough; the scourge of nuclear weapons must be wiped from the face of the Earth, and Obama should have the courage of his convictions and go all-out on this issue.

Military spending: drastically reduce Pentagon spending in order to invest in weapons industry worker re-training and human and environmental needs, both here and around the world.

This is a list worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and also of a country seeking peace, prosperity and harmony with the rest of the world.


NBC Action News in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It was a historical day in Washington as President Barack Obama, just nine months in office, wins the Nobel Prize. But what do people in the metro think of his award?

As a life long anti-nuclear weapons activist, Kris Cheatum is elated with Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and his call to curb weapons of mass destruction.

“It has to happen. We are not safe with them, the world is not safe,” Cheatum said.

Cheatum has been with Kansas City’s PeaceWorks since the early 80’s. Friday’s peace prize announcement caught many people by surprise including the winner.

“I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel committee,” Obama said.

Given the president’s short time in office, questions about the timing of the award have surfaced abroad and here at home.

Do You Think President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Was Deserved?

Yes (32.8%)
No (67.2%)
“It’s always good when the world recognizes America for seeking peace rather than seeking conflict,” Johnson County Rep. Party Chairman Ronnie Metsker said.

Still, Metsker and many others would like to see results of the president’s proposals.

“I think it would be an excellent thing to win the peace prize after you have accomplished something,” Metsker added.

For Cheatum, Friday’s announcement is a true sign of hope.

“My husband and I worked our whole lives on this project to eliminate nuclear weapons and now we have a president who also wants to abolish them.”

From our perspective in Peace Action, I think the focus needs to be
to reinforce our own message: Real Security through International
Cooperation, Human Rights (and freedom from weapons of mass destruction).

This is the message we worked through all levels of our organization
for a two-year period, and decided it would be what we intended to
unify our organization and its message around.

What I’ve heard is that the Nobel Awards Committee focused on
basically our message in awarding the prize. They credited Obama’s
shift of US policy from unilateralism to international cooperation,
and away from violating human rights in torture. Is that right? Can
our statement make that clear, if it is true?

Can we say something good about Obama’s work for international
cooperation in talking with Iran, North Korea, and Israel and
Palestine, and nuclear reductions with the Soviet Union, and call for
steps toward nuclear abolition?

I’d like to see us use this to emphasize our own message.

If we put our emotional energy into becoming judges on whether Obama
deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, we lose our message. We become
endangered with judgmentalism and stuff like that that I don’t want to
describe here.

We do press for getting out of Afghanistan. That’s right. It’s the
first article on my own website (an incisive article by David
Cortright)– My ex-marine
peacemaker group member, Jake Diliberto, is going all over spreading
the message to rethink Afghanistan. I think that’s crucial. But I
don’t encourage us to put all our energy into that. Are we just anti
war, or are we Peace Action?

Glen Stassen, member of the Peace Action Education Fund Board of Directors and a Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California

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Showing 4 comments
  • kcnukeswatch

    Thank you for highlighting Kris Cheatum’s response to this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

    Hopefully Obama remembers the honor this winter with the administration’s defense review in Congress.

  • jkain

    President Obama truly deserves the noble price to be awarded for all he has done since his tenure i guess.

  • Peaceful Web Site

    I would pose the question of whether it was awarded for things he has done or to entice him to do more for peace…

  • How to Differentiate Your Service

    Hello Guru, what enticed you to post this article. This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject since last weekend.

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