Who Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize?

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks during a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at United
US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks during a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at United Nations headquarters Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Talk is rife about bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize on those who concluded the Iran nuclear deal. Barack Obama's name heads the list although he probably is disqualified by the Committee's premature, unjustified award back in 2009. Attention, therefore, is focused on Secretary Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Their sharing of the prize could be seen as a neat way to honor the achievement without judging who exactly is most responsible for it. There is precedent -- let us recall how Oslo decided to pair Anwar Sadat with Menachem Begin in 1978, and then Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1994.

Now, in a sense, we are facing a similar situation. Here is why. There are a number of premises that underlie the judgment that the nuclear agreement is a monumental accomplishment in the cause of peace. Yet, they in fact are all of dubious validity. They can be boiled down to these propositions:

1. Iran had a strong interest in building a bomb and was acquiring the capability to do.

2. Its motives were suspect because it had engaged in some activities that were not reported to the IAEA as it was required to do under terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it is a signatory

3. This was the basis for judging the matter to be an "existential" threat to Middle East peace and stability

4. Military hostilities could have occurred unless this concern was alleviated.

5. Hostilities could have been by the United States and/or Israel who perceived Iran to be a threat to them.

6. Iran could have responded by initiating military action in retaliation against them or against 3rd parties

7. Therefore, an accord on terms that settled the issue between the United States and Iran (but not Israel) was a significant step away from war and toward peace.

8. Obama demonstrated uncommon courage and political skill in overcoming strong resistance to the agreement in Congress


1.The Islamic Republic of Iran never has had a dedicated nuclear weapons program. Whatever research activities it engaged in that could be relevant to such a program ceased in 2003 -- as confirmed by the exhaustive report of the Office of National Intelligence in 2007 and reconfirmed on a number of occasions since. We should bear in mind the significance of that date not because the American invasion of Iraq struck fear in the hearts of the regime's leaders, but rather because it eliminated their mortal enemy Saddam Hussein whose attack in 1980 (later aided by the United States) started a bloody seven year war and whose own interest in WMD was revealed by inspections that followed in the wake of his defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.

Much of the confusion about Iranian capabilities and intentions derives from the objective reality that a wide range of peaceful nuclear program permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have potential military applications. The enrichment of uranium is foremost among them. Therefore, Iranian interest in mastering those technologies does not represent either violation of the NPT nor should be taken as a sign of commitment to development of an atomic weapon. Iran's 'sin' - which has been the trigger for the entire skein of indictments and penalties - was the failure to report the opening of one facility to the International Atomic Energy Commission the operation of one particular facility.

2.The foremost "threat" presented by Iran in the minds of American and Israeli leaders has not been the prospect of nuclear armaments per se. Instead, it has been Iran's emergence as a Middle Eastern power challenging the dominance of the United States and its allies. The remote possibility of its acquiring a nuclear capability surely heightened their level of concern. However, that core concern was independent of the nuclear issue. The issue did serve the strategic purpose of providing justification for isolating the IRI economically and politically, particularly the imposition of crippling sanctions.

3.Further evidence of that proposition is provided in abundance by the hardline position of the Obama administration in rejecting out-of-hand any suggestion of a normalization of relations between Washington and Teheran. This is despite the obvious convergence of interest in confronting the rise if ISIL. While rejecting even tactical cooperation on this and other regional problems, the United States has pursued a relentless propaganda campaign that castigates Iran as the instigator of conflicts throughout the region, e.g. Yemen, Syria, Lebanon despite their having multiple causes among which Iranian actions are not primary.

4-6. Military conflict over the Iranian nuclear issue during the long standoff could take only one form -- American and/or Israeli airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. Both countries threatened such: the Israelis explicitly and repeatedly; the United States obliquely. Otherwise, this was a crisis which, in and of itself, did not involve hostilities nor necessarily would provoke them. Iran, certainly, had no reason or intention of doing so.

It is true that Iran might have retaliated to an air assault by a number of military actions: attacking American bases elsewhere in the region; attacking shipping in the Persian Gulf; or launching missiles against Israel. Avoiding that scenario is by definition a contribution to peace; the means of avoidance, though, was to refrain from the initial aggressive military action in the first place.

Then there is the question of whether the hypothetical Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability (demonstrated or not) constituted such a singular threat to international peace that the United States and its allies were justified in declaring that eventuality as being so dire as to warrant resort to all means to prevent it. If so, then logically it follows that the coercive diplomacy they pursued could be considered to be an act in the cause of peace,

To accept this proposition, we must make the assumption that a hypothetical Iranian nuclear capability at some point in the future constituted a magnitude of threat much greater than that posed by extant nuclear powers. They number nine: the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korean and Israel. In addition, South Africa at one time possessed nuclear weapons (as was known to Western intelligence). It is debatable at least that a conjectured nuclear Iran in fact would have been in a threat category of its own compared to North Korea and Israel.

7. Based on the above assessment, there is sound reason to question whether the Iran nuclear accord represents a truly outstanding contribution to peace. Moreover, there are side-effects that point in quite the opposite direction. We should weigh in the balance the following: the spike in American sales of advanced weapons to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf principalities; American complicity in the Saudi led assault on Yemen (motivated by a Washington approved Saudi desire to counter what it claims is Iranian/Shi'ite influence among the Houthis) which has produced enormous destruction and loss of life; the resulting strengthening of the Yemen based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular; and moves to enter into tacit understanding with the al-Qaeda Syrian affiliate al-Nusra also to counter Iranian influence as manifest in its backing of the Assad regime. Together, this set of American policies also fuels a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shi'ites that is setting ablaze the entire region.

All of these actions, and consequences, flow directly from Washington's judgment that they were imperative to offset the nuclear accord with Iran by currying favor with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the minor Gulf states. It is hard to see why the resulting Yemeni and Palestinian lives destroyed should whether so lightly in the ethical balance -- and why most ignore them completely -- when considering the award of a Nobel Peace Prize.

8. There most certainly unprecedented opposition to the nuclear agreement from Congress (especially the unified bloc of Republicans) and the pro-Israel lobby. Well-funded, highly organized and backed by an orchestrated lobbying campaign in the media, these "contras" came within a few votes of forcing a Presidential veto and not many more from passing a resolution of rejection. We should bear in mind, though, that much of this fierce resistance was of Obama's own doing. First, he and his administration had contributed mightily to the depiction of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a regime beyond the pale to whom the standard measures of threat assessment didn't apply. For six years, there was the steady chorus of denunciation. Washington reciprocated Iran's hostility with stigmatized the Islamic Republic as inherently Evil, an existential menace, and therefore a government that had best disappear ("Death to the IRI." This added to an atmosphere of fright which skewed consideration of all matters Iranian.

Second, Obama's passivity in the face of his humiliation by Bibi Netanyahu, in cahoots with the Republican leadership, emboldened both to take radical measures never before seen = and, in the process, aggravated fears and anxieties.

Obama's rhetoric between the signing of the nuclear accord and the Congressional votes was bellicose and uncompromising to the extent that it heightened concerns - real or confected - that even this strict set of restrictions did not suffice as iron clad guarantees against Iranian nuclear ambitions in the future.

In summary, there are substantial grounds for distancing oneself from the facile, widespread assessment that the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to those who negotiated nuclear deal. The Iranian leadership, which had their own reasons for desiring an agreement, understandably may well have decided that those conditions -- qualifying the country's national sovereignty as never before done short of total defeat in war -- were intolerably onerous. Instead, they reached the judgment that their national interests were better served by accepting the accord. It is not self-evident that Obama, or the U.S. government in general, did anything exceptional to encourage them to make that choice. Ritual denunciations of the IRI and its intentions were the order of the day. Washington set and maintained an extraordinary harsh set of conditions to the very end. A less eager leadership in Teheran might never have conceded the highly dubious and unprecedented demands of the Americans. Most important in this regard, Iran in fact they had no nuclear weapons program to abandon and by all appearances did not even consider one after 2003. Hence, they had little to lose.

It follows that the "problem" itself was freighted with exaggerated importance. As noted above, we witnessed an orchestrated campaign to demonize the IRI for reasons having no direct connection to their nuclear activities. In a sense, the celebration is for resolving a pseudo-crisis created to a large extent by the behavior of those who preen as peace-makers.

There is additional consideration to take into account. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to persons; therefore, the prospective awardees' worthiness cannot be assessed exclusively in regard to one accomplishment. This is particularly so when he has been involved in several diplomatic actions simultaneously. In regard to Secretary Kerry, let us keep in mind that he directed American foreign policy when Washington gave the green light to the Israeli government's indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians in Operation Protective Edge -- and when the United States continued to prosecute a pointless war in Afghanistan that involved the notorious drone 'signature' strikes.

As stipulated in Alfred Nobel's will, the prize should go to "who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

To award the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama or Kerry would be an offense to the truth unmatched since the prize was given to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. By the way, the Nobel Committee also managed to overlook Mahatma Gandhi -- determining in 1948, the year after his death, that there was no one deserving of the prize.