Noble Carter, Ignoble Nobel

Former President Jimmy Carter well deserves the high honor of the Nobel Peace Prize, bestowed upon him last week, most notably because of his mediation between Israel and Egypt in 1978.

But the Nobel Committee went beyond just that diplomatic accomplishment and described Mr. Carter's many post-presidency contributions as an "untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights."

The prize, however, was tainted by an unusual public message from the the normally secretive Nobel committee. The award "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current US administration has taken on Iraq," the committee noted.

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This message acknowledges what has long been known about the Norway-based committee: It wants to influence current events as much as to honor the past accomplishments of those who brought peace.

Picking Carter so late (24 years) after the Camp David peace accords, and when a Republican president is in the middle of an antiterrorism campaign, belittles Carter's work and confirms the Nobel is used as a soapbox for overt political influence.

Critics have rightly asked why former President Ronald Reagan should not also be given the Peace Prize for confronting the Soviet Union so strongly that the 20th-century menace collapsed in 1991, freeing millions from mass poverty and dictatorial rule. It was also Mr. Reagan's strong stance that freed the American hostages in Iran.

The Nobel's integrity has been weakened. Carter himself sets a better example of doing good works while generally staying above the political fray of Washington politics. The Carter Center, which he created with his wife, Rosalynn, in 1982, continues as an active national and international policy center. The former president was instrumental, for example, in helping avert a US invasion of Haiti in 1994.

Carter's tireless efforts on behalf of humanity deserve all sorts of prizes, not just the Nobel.

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