Friday, October 9, 2009

The Stolting Five

Thorbjørn Jagland. Kaci Kullmann Five. Sissel Marie Rønbeck. Inger-Marie Ytterhorn. Ågot Valle.

Do you know who these people are? All of them are Norwegian politicians. All of them at one time or another was a member of Norway’s Parliament, the Stolting. Jagland was even Prime Minister of Norway for a couple years in the mid-90’s.

Oh, and they are also the folks responsible for selecting the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. (The other Nobel Prizes are selected by various committees in Sweden, but the Peace Prize is selected by a committee appointed by Norwegian Parliament.)

There is going to be a lot of debate about whether or not President Barack Obama should have received the Nobel Peace Prize. Two things that may get lost in the debate, but that I think of central importance, are:

* A prize that is decided by less than half a dozen Norway legislators should not get everyone so excited. Norway has roughly the population of Alabama, and its legislators aren’t exactly major players in world affairs. We shouldn’t care who wins, or who gets passed over, or what it all means. It doesn’t - well, it shouldn’t – mean anything.

* Jagland and his posse aren’t doing Obama any favors. As I’ve written before (see here and here), Barack Obama labors under oppressive expectations and this prize – which is based entirely on expectations and not at all on accomplishment – just adds to those expectations. It shouldn’t (see above), but it does.

Update (10/15): The Norwegian tabloid Verdens Gang reported today that 3 of three of the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee had objections to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to US President Barack Obama. "VG has spoken to a number of sources who confirmed the impression that a majority of the Nobel committee, at first, had not decided to give the peace prize to Barack Obama." VG said that Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, Kaci Kullmann Five, and Aagot Valle all had objections. Perhaps I should re-name this post "The Stolting Two."

The Nobel Peace Prize is only one of the Nobel prizes under fire. As I wrote back in December, the Nobel Prize for Literature becomes more ridiculous each year (add Herta Muller to a list that doesn’t include Nabokov, Joyce, or Updike). And the brilliant essayist Nassim Taleb is personally (if somewhat quixotically) lobbying the King of Sweden to cancel the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Econ­omic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, or as its usually mislabeled, the Nobel Prize in Economics.

So as you contemplate President Obama’s selection, you shouldn’t be angry or elated (depending on your worldview). Apathy is the appropriate response.

Update (10/13): Via Taranto (who also compared Norway's population to Alabama's), a blog post from George Friedman of Stratfor, who goes into greater detail about the Stolting Five, and what Obama's selection means about European politics. First, he says:

"Two things must be remembered about the Nobel Peace Prize. The first is that [Alfred] Nobel was never clear about his intentions for it. The second is his decision to have it awarded by politicians from — and we hope the Norwegians will accept our advance apologies — a marginal country relative to the international system. This is not meant as a criticism of Norway, a country we have enjoyed in the past, but the Norwegians sometimes have an idiosyncratic way of viewing the world."

He argues persuasively that Barack Obama may not end up becoming the President that Europe so fervently hopes for:

"The Norwegians awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the president of their dreams, not the president who is dealing with Iran and Afghanistan. Obama is not a free actor. He is trapped by the reality he has found himself in, and that reality will push him far away from the Norwegian fantasy. In the end, the United States is the United States — and that is Europe’s nightmare, because the United States is not obsessed with maintaining Europe’s comfortable prosperity. The United States cannot afford to be, and in the end, neither can President Obama, Nobel Peace Prize or not"

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