Of the four US presidents who have been given a Nobel Prize–Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama–the one who’s shown the cleanest pair of heels when it comes to escaping the world’s guffaws for the absurdity of the award is Jimmy Carter.
It’s easy to throw mud at TR. The excuse for his prize, awarded in 1906, was his role in ending the Russo-Japanese War. But what the committee of those worthy Norwegians was actually saying was that when it comes to giving a US president the peace prize, the bar has to be set awfully low. After all, TR was fresh from sponsorship of the Spanish-American War and ardent bloodletting in the Philippines.
He accepted the prize not long after he’d displayed his boundless compassion for humanity by sponsoring an exhibition of Filipino “monkey men” in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair as “the missing link” in the evolution of man from ape to Aryan, and thus in sore need of assimilation, forcible if necessary, to the American way. On receipt of the prize, Roosevelt promptly began planning the dispatch of the Great White Fleet (sixteen Navy battleships of the Atlantic Fleet) on a worldwide tour to display Uncle Sam’s imperial credentials.
Wilson, the liberal imperialist with whom Obama bears some marked affinities, won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1919. The rationale was his effort to establish the League of Nations. His substantive achievement was to have brought America into the carnage of World War I and to have refined the language and ideology of liberal interventionism. Between TR and Wilson, it’s hard to say who was the more fervent racist. Probably Wilson. As governor of New Jersey he was a fanatical proponent of the confinement and sterilization of “imbeciles,” a eugenic crusade that culminated in the US Immigration Act of 1924, which barred Jews and other suspect genetic material from entering the United States. Much against their will, many of these excluded Jews made their way to Palestine. Others involuntarily stayed in place in Russia and Eastern Europe and were murdered by the Nazis. Above all, Wilson at Versailles was the sponsor of ethnic nationalism, the motive force for the Final Solution. And they say Obama’s award has brought the Peace Prize into disrepute!
Carter got his prize in 2002 as reward for conspicuous good works. But there again, the message of the Nobel committee was, Take the rough with the smooth. It was Carter, after all, who amped up the new cold war, got Argentinian torturers to train the Contras and above all dragged the United States into Afghanistan. It was in 1978 that a progressive secular government seized power in Afghanistan, decreeing universal education for women and banning child marriage. By early 1979 Carter was hatching plans with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China to arm mujahedeen and warlords in Afghanistan to overthrow the government and attempt to lure the Soviet Union into combat. In December 1979, after repeated requests from the government in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union sent forces to fight against the rebellion by the fundamentalists. The CIA launched the most expensive operation in its history to train and equip these fundamentalists and allied warlords.