YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Earning a Nobel

October 18, 2009|Ariel Dorfman; Yossi Klein Halevi; Jonathan Turley ;Saree Makdisi; Michael Scheuer; Kennette Benedict Kennette Benedict

Many people, including the president himself, were surprised this month when the Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to Barack Obama. His critics -- as well as some supporters -- questioned whether he deserved it. It was too soon, they said; he'd done too little. We posed a question to a collection of writers and scholars: What should the president do to earn the prize?

Of all the regions in a dangerous and intractable world, forgotten Latin America might paradoxically offer Barack Obama the best opportunity to influence events so that the "hope for the future" embodied in his Nobel Peace Prize becomes a reality.

Building on his creative engagement with Latin America after the George W. Bush years of blindness and neglect, there is much the president can accomplish immediately. Lifting the senseless blockade against Cuba, followed by full diplomatic relations, would be a good beginning. Another sore spot is Honduras, where the United States has not done enough to isolate and punish the de facto government, which came to power through a coup against the country's elected president. And Obama should rethink his approach to hemispheric security (canceling, for instance, Plan Colombia) as a way of defusing tensions in a Latin America threatened by a new arms race.

Build a legacy in America's backyard

Ariel Dorfman

The U.S., one of the largest Spanish-speaking countries in the world, could also send a signal of friendship to Latin America by legalizing the situation of millions of undocumented Latino workers.

On another front, presidents Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Felipe Calderon of Mexico, seconded by Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have valiantly opened up a tentative conversation about the failed "war on drugs." If Obama were to encourage, and perhaps imitate, their efforts to decriminalize the use of marijuana, it would help alter an irrational policy that has generated a mafia of narcotraficantes across the Americas.

There are, of course, the real wars to win. Against poverty and tyranny, against ecological depredation and the marginalization of the indigenous peoples and their wisdom. The president, with his immense heart and his inspirational words, could be a fundamental partner in our quest for a better future.

Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean American author and a professor of literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University. (


The No. 1 priority: Stop Iran

Yossi Klein Halevi

The president received the Nobel Peace Prize for his stated commitment to nuclear disarmament, and the most urgent place to begin is preventing an Iranian bomb.

That means keeping Iranian-American negotiations on a tight timetable and then, if negotiations falter, moving rapidly to significant economic sanctions. And if those fail, the president should sanction force -- on the part of others if America can't or won't assume that responsibility itself.

The president's hopes for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict depend in large part on stopping the Ahmadinejad bomb. If that effort fails, the Arab world's jihadists will be empowered. No Palestinian leader, and for that matter no Arab leader, would likely defy the new regional power and dare normalize relations with Israel. As for the Israeli public, its willingness to concede territory has always depended on its confidence in the country's ability to defend itself. A nuclear Iran would drastically reinforce Israelis' existential fears.

A nuclear Iran, moreover, would trigger a Middle East nuclear arms race, destroying President Obama's vision for disarmament.

Obama must prioritize his peace agenda. He must avoid the temptation of trying to immediately solve the Palestinian problem, which is, tragically, far from a solution. By all means, he must continue to press for mutual gestures of goodwill from Israel and the Arab world. But a realistic peacemaker needs to show far more urgency in stopping the imminent nuclearization of Iran.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.


Appoint a prosecutor for war crimes

Jonathan Turley

To truly earn the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama needs to transform himself from a barrier to a beacon when it comes to human rights and international law.

Los Angeles Times Articles